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The United States Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in a case that is likely to have a far-reaching impact on the rights of those accused of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). In the case, Missouri v. McNeely, the court is expected to decide whether law enforcement must get a warrant before compelling a DUI suspect to take a blood test.

Events of the case

The events leading up to the case started in October 2010 when Tyler McNeely was pulled over in Missouri for speeding. During the stop, the officer found evidence to support his suspicion that McNeely was driving while intoxicated. The officer had McNeely perform a set of field sobriety tests, which he performed poorly.

Because McNeely failed the sobriety tests, the officer asked McNeely to submit to a breath test, but he refused. The officer then drove McNeely to a hospital and ordered the staff to take a blood sample for testing. He did not get a warrant before doing this. The results of the blood test showed that McNeely’s blood alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit, so he was arrested for DUI.

Before the trial, McNeely’s attorney successfully made a motion for the court to throw out the results of the blood test, because the officer did not get a warrant. On appeal, the trial court’s decision was reversed. When it was again appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, the court ruled that a warrant was required and reversed the appeals court. The decision was then appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled on this issue in a 1966 opinion. In that opinion, the court held that police should get a warrant before requiring a blood sample except in exigent circumstances, or emergency situations. McNeely’s prosecutors argue that DUI situations constitute exigent circumstances, because in the time it would take to get a warrant, the level of alcohol in the suspect’s blood would likely drop as it is being metabolized, which would cause the destruction of evidence.

At oral argument, the questions that the justices asked the prosecutors seemed to indicate that they were skeptical of this argument. However, the justices’ questions do not always indicate how they will ultimately rule. Their decision is expected later this spring.

An attorney can help

If the court sides with McNeely, it would strengthen the Fourth Amendment rights of DUI suspects against unreasonable search and seizure, by forcing law enforcement to obtain a warrant before taking a suspect’s blood.

If you have been arrested for DUI, it is important for you to assert your rights. An experienced criminal defense attorney can explain your rights to you, ensure that they are protected and work to obtain the best possible outcome.