U.S. Supreme Court holds warrantless blood draws invalid absent special exigent factors

Missouri v McNeely, 569 U. S. ____ , No. 11–1425, Slip op. (April 17, 2013)

This is a U.S. Supreme Court case holding that metabolizing of alcohol is not a per se exigency that justifies a warrantless blood draw.  In this multi-concurring in part and dissenting in part case, a Missouri police officer stopped McNeely’s truck and observed signs of intoxication. When McNeely refused a breathalyzer exam the officer took him to a nearby hospital to obtain a blood test, which was obtained without a warrant and without consent.  McNeely moved to suppress the blood results during his DWI trial which the trial court granted and the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed.

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed.  Citing to Schmerber v. California, 384 U. S. 757 (1966), the Court held that a warrant­less blood draw requires more than the mere dissipation of blood-alcohol evidence.  The exigency allowing for such a draw depends heavily on a variety of “special factors” of which the metabolizing of alcohol can be part of the analysis, but cannot be the only part.  Since this was a “routine DWI” case with no additional special factors, the Court affirmed the suppression of the blood test.   The Court emphasized that trial courts must look to the totality of the circumstances in determining if a warrantless blood draw is justified. The context of blood testing is different in critical respects from other destruction-of-evidence cases in which the police are truly confronted with a “‘now or never’” situation.  When the officer lacks sufficient time to obtain a warrant due to exigent circumstances, such as seeing suspects to medical treatment after an accident or delays due to overriding public concerns of safety, warrantless blood draws may be justified.  However, when the officer has sufficient time to obtain a warrant under normal circumstances (such as using technology or officer assistance to contact a magistrate while transport is occurring) and no other special factors exists, a warrantless blood draw is not authorized under the Fourth Amendment.

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