Sacramento criminal defense attorneys Mark Reichel and Steve Plesser, at the Sacramento Law Offices of Reichel, Plesser L.L.P., are thrilled with this outcome.
Court Rules Warrants Are Needed to Draw Blood in Drunken-Driving Cases
By ADAM LIPTAK
Published: April 17, 2013
The full 48 page SCOTUS opinion is online @ http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/11-1425_cb8e.pdf)
WASHINGTON — The fact that alcohol dissipates from the bloodstream over time does not by itself give the police the right to draw blood without a warrant in drunken-driving investigations, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.
The case arose from the arrest of Tyler G. McNeely, who was pulled over for speeding on a Missouri highway and exhibited, the State Supreme Court said, “the telltale signs of intoxication — bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and the smell of alcohol on his breath.” He performed poorly on a field sobriety test and was arrested.
Mr. McNeely refused to take a breath test and, after being taken to a hospital, to consent to a blood test. One was performed anyway, about 25 minutes after he was pulled over, and it showed a blood alcohol level of 0.15 percent, almost twice the legal limit.
The state court suppressed the evidence, saying there had been no “exigent circumstances” that excused the failure to obtain a warrant. “Warrantless intrusions of the body are not to be undertaken lightly,” the court said in an unsigned opinion.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in an opinion joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and, for the most part, Anthony M. Kennedy, said that many factors must be considered in deciding whether a warrant is needed. Among them, she said, are “the practical problems of obtaining a warrant within a time frame that still preserves the opportunity to obtain reliable evidence.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr., concurred in part and dissented in part.
“A police officer reading this court’s opinion would have no idea — no idea — what the Fourth Amendment requires of him,” the chief justice wrote, referring to the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.
In 1966, in Schmerber v. California, the United States Supreme Court said no warrant was required to take blood without the driver’s consent after an accident in which the driver and a passenger were injured. The fact that alcohol levels diminish over time figured in the court’s analysis, as did the time it took to investigate the scene of the accident and move the injured people to the hospital.
Justice Clarence Thomas dissented in the case, Missouri v. McNeely, No. 11-1425. “Because the body’s natural metabolization of alcohol inevitably destroys evidence of the crime,” he said, “it constitutes an exigent circumstance.”