By: James Davis
The United States Supreme Court reached a decision on April 17, 2013 in the case of Missouri v. McNeely, which deals with the issue of whether police officers are required to obtain warrants before subjecting individuals suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol to a forcible blood draw.
The controversy arises from the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Because a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy inside the tissues within his or her own body, the police generally cannot legally “search” you by sticking a needle through your skin, or “seize” your blood, unless a neutral magistrate has issued a warrant determining that good cause existed for these intrusions. However, an exception to the fourth amendment’s warrant requirement occurs whenever there are “exigent circumstances,” such as the imminent destruction of evidence, which justify an officer’s decision to perform a search or seizure without a warrant.
THE “BRIGHT LINE” RULE REQUESTED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS
In the case of Missouri v. McNeely, Law Enforcement officials sought a “bright line” rule arguing that because the body naturally breaks down alcohol in the blood stream resulting in diminishment of Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) over time, this loss of evidence automatically constitutes the required “exigent circumstances” necessary to justify an officer’s decision to require a forcible blood draw without a warrant.
THE COURT’S RULING
The United State Supreme Court refused to create such a “bright line” rule, and instead held that officers must make a decision regarding whether to obtain a warrant prior to requiring a forcible blood draw in light of all the circumstances presented in each particular situation.
In its decision, the Court emphasized the fact that technology has made it easier and more convenient for law enforcement officials to expedite the process of obtaining a warrant. In its decision, the Court identifies how in one county in Kansas, policies are in place to allow officers to email requests for warrants directly to judges’ iPads, and these requests have been ruled upon and returned within 15 minutes of the request. In Utah, there is an e-warrant procedure where a police officer enters information into a system, the system notifies a prosecutor, and upon approval the officer forwards the information to a magistrate, who can electronically return a warrant to the officer. In Utah, Judges have been known to issue warrants in as little as five minutes. In these jurisdictions, the dissipation of alcohol from the blood resulting from the body’s metabolic processes usually will not constitute “exigent circumstances” sufficient to ignore the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, since the officers will usually be able to obtain a warrant by shooting an electronic communication to a judge while en route to the hospital in the squad car.
On the other hand, in jurisdictions like Florida, where there is no electronic means of obtaining a warrant and magistrates are required to review written affidavits in order to issue a search warrant, your DUI attorney may have to bring several other factors to the attention of the Court in order to help the Court to assess whether the dissipation from alcohol in the blood creates an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.
Has your blood been drawn against your will by a law enforcement official who failed to obtain a warrant? The Law Office of James Davis may be able to suppress the illegally obtained lab evidence using this new United States Supreme Court precedent and dismiss your DUI charges. Contact us to request a meeting to
discuss your case.
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