Daily Archives: Tuesday 8 January 2013

Legal News of the Day: Oral Arguments on Blood Tests and Privacy Before SCOTUS Wednesday

Tomorrow morning, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Missouri v. McNeely, which considers the issue of whether police require a court order before getting a blood sample from an individual suspected of drunk driving.

In the case at hand, McNeely was pulled over for speeding, proceeded to fail field sobriety tests, and refused a breathalyzer.  The officer drove McNeely to a hospital, where McNeely refused a blood test, but the officer directed the technician to take one anyway.  The sample showed a blood alcohol level of almost double the legal limit, which McNeely’s legal team attempted to block as evidence, arguing that the sample was a warrantless search in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.  The trial judge barred the evidence from the case, finding no exigent circumstances.  The state appeals court overturned that result, but the Missouri Supreme Court ruled for McNeely.

The Missouri Supreme Court’s ruling was based on the 1966 case, Schmerber v. California, where the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that it doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment for police to order a blood sample of a person involved in an automobile accident who’s suspected of being drunk without a warrant.  At that time, the majority said bloodtestit was ruling on the basis of “exigent circumstances”–that the officer didn’t have time to get a warrant because the suspect had to go to the hospital to be treated for injuries.  According to the Missouri Supreme Court, under Schmerber, exigent circumstances do not apply simply because the alcohol in a person’s bloodstream begnis to diminish once a person stops drinking; rather, there must be a number of “special facts” that leads the officer to believe it’s an emergency situation.  Currently, state supreme courts and the federal appeals courts are split on the issue, with some holding that the dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream is itself a sufficient exigent circumstance, while others ruled as Missouri did, following the narrow precedent set by Schmerber.

For further analysis of this upcoming case, check out SCOTUSBlog’s coverage.