Attorney J. Bradley Smith answering the question: “Should I talk to the police?”
The Supreme Court handed down a major ruling last month in the Missouri v. McNeely case. The justices decided to reject the argument advocated by Missouri and the Obama administration that officers should never be required to secure a warrant prior to procuring a blood test against suspected drunk drivers. Instead, the Court decided that police officers should usually obtain judicial approval prior to ordering a blood draw.
The case revolved around Missourian, James McNeely’s 2010 arrest. After being pulled over by a state trooper, McNeely failed several field sobriety tests and then refused to submit to a breathalyzer test to determine his blood alcohol level. Given his refusal, the officer took McNeely to a local hospital where he was strapped to a table and had his blood forcibly drawn, all without ever bothering to secure a warrant.
McNeely attempted to block the blood test from appearing in court, arguing that the results were illegally obtained. Prosecutors claimed that given the time of night and location of the arrest, that a warrant would have been impractical and taken at least two hours to secure. This delay was unacceptable, in their opinion, given that it might allow enough time for alcohol to leave McNeely’s system.
Justice Sotomayor, writing for the majority, rejected Missouri’s argument and decided that the police almost always have enough time to properly secure a warrant before forcing a blood draw. Sotomayor was willing to concede that some cases might require extraordinary actions without a warrant, but said that such instances would be dealt with on an individual basis.
Though many welcomed the decision because it rejected the idea of unlimited warrantless blood tests, others were critical of the Court’s fractured decisions. Four separate opinions were written in the case, leading some to wonder what the justices actually agreed on. In one of the concurring opinions written by Chief Justice Roberts, he decided to strongly criticize the majority for not creating a clear enough rule. Roberts said that in the future it would be hard if not impossible for ordinary police officers to understand what the law required of them in drunk driving cases. Unfortunately, Roberts did not decide to add any clarity to the matter. In his concurrence, Roberts wrote that in cases where an officer believes there is enough time to secure a warrant, then a warrant should be secured. However, in cases where a “reasonable officer” would believe there was not enough time to secure a warrant and preserve evidence, then a warrantless blood test can proceed.
Though the opinion failed to go as far as some hoped, it was a fairly solid rebuke of the idea that officers have the power to force blood tests without a judge’s approval. Though Sotomayor wrote that McNeely’s blood test should be excluded from evidence, she was not willing to go farther and say that a warrant was required in every case. The hope is that the wiggle room left by the justices does not lead to future constitutional violations by confused police officers.
Arnold & Smith, PLLC is a Charlotte based criminal defense, traffic violation defense and civil litigation law firm servicing Charlotte and the surrounding area. If you or someone you know need legal assistance, please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828.
“U.S. Supreme Court denies Missouri’s push for warrantless blood tests in DUI cases,” by Brian Burnes, published at KansasCity.com.
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