Supreme Court Rules Against Warrantless Blood Testing for DUIs
DUIs are not considered an emergency meriting loss of Constitutional rights
Can the police force you to give a blood sample?
If you are pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence, can the police force you to take a blood test? Probably not, according to an April, 2013 Supreme Court ruling (Missouri v. McNeely).
In that case, a police officer pulled over a driver, Tyler McNeely, who had been speeding and swerving in traffic. McNeely exhibited several signs of being inebriated including slurred speech and difficulty walking. McNeely refused to submit to a breath test and instead of seeking a court order for a blood test, the officer took McNeely to a hospital, handcuffed him and had a blood test administered. McNeely’s BAC showed a .154 level, almost double the legal limit.
The Missouri Supreme Court threw out McNeely’s DUI conviction, stating that the forced blood test violated the Constitution's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. The general rules is that police need a warrant to take a suspect's blood except when a delay could threaten a life or destroy potential evidence.
On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, McNeely argued that a DUI was not the type of emergency that threatened life or destroyed potential evidence, especially because in Missouri, as in most states, the refusal to take a chemical test results in loss of license privileges and other penalties. The Supreme Court agreed with McNeely and tossed the DUI conviction. In summary, despite the urging of the state of Missouri and the federal government, the Supreme Court refused to grant a blanket license to police officers to permit warrantless blood testing in DUI cases. However, the Supreme Court held that such decisions would be made on a case by case basis – indicating that there may be some alcohol related driving arrests that may qualify as exigencies permitting warrantless blood tests.
One Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, disagreed with his colleagues stating that a warrantless blood test does not violate a suspect's constitutional rights.