On January 9, 2012 the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments in Missouri v. McNeely. Mr. McNeely was pulled over for speeding and failing to maintain his lane by a Missouri State Police Officer. The officer conducted a DWI investigation and ultimately arrested Mr. McNeely for DWI. This is where the story gets interesting.
The officer transported Mr. McNeely to a local hospital to collect a sample of blood. Mr. McNeely refused to voluntarily provide a sample, but the officer ordered the hospital to collect a blood sample from Mr. McNeely anyway. Now, getting a blood sample in a DWI case is not something that is completely out of the ordinary, even when the person under arrest refuses to provide a sample voluntarily, but there are only a few recognized scenarios where an officer is able to collect a blood sample over the objection of the person whose been arrested.
For example, if the officer has reason to believe that the person has 2 prior DWI convictions, or if there is an accident involved that has resulted in serious bodily injury or death the officer may be allowed to get a blood sample without the consent of the accused.
In Mr. McNeely’s case there was no accident and no indication that he had ever been charged with DWI, let alone convicted of DWI. The other common way for the Officer to obtain a blood sample is to get a warrant from a judge.
The officer in Mr. McNeely’s case had obtained warrants for blood in the past, and, in fact, it appears that there was a judge on call and available to sign warrants on the night that Mr. McNeely was stopped, but the officer chose not to get a warrant. The officer on his own authority ordered the hospital to collect a sample of Mr. McNeely’s blood.
Mr. McNeely’s attorney filed a motion to suppress the blood evidence at trial because it was obtained without a warrant and the trial court granted the motion resulting in the blood evidence being thrown out. The State of Missouri appealed the trial court’s decision. The State argued that because alcohol levels in a person’s blood naturally decrease over time there is an exigent circumstance justifying the taking of the blood.
So, the question that the Supreme Court has to decide is whether the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement of the 4th Amendment allows for the non-consensual taking of a blood sample from someone accused and arrested for DWI.
The Court will most likely issue a decision in this case sometime in late spring or early summer. This case demonstrates that DWI law is constantly evolving and it is important for the attorney of someone accused of DWI to stay up to date on all the latest developments.