U. S. Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Missouri Implied Consent Case

The United States Supreme Court is hearing arguments today in a forcible blood draw case from DUI case Missouri vs. McNeely.  At issue, from the Supreme Court’s website:

“Whether a law enforcement officer may obtain a nonconsensual and warrantless blood sample from a drunk driver under the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement based upon the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream.”

A majority opinion in the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case Schmerber vs. California opened the door for a nonconsensual, warrantless blood draw when there are “special facts” involving a DUI suspect and a car crash.  This ruling allowed for officers to involuntarily have blood drawn in the exigency of the chemical dissipation of the suspect’s B.A.C. and the emergency investigation of a crash involving injuries.

No such circumstances were present when Missouri Highway Patrol Corporal Mark Winder pulled over Tyler McNeely for speeding.  McNeely was unsteady on his feet and failed field sobriety tests.  Cpl. Winder asked McNeely to consent to a breath test.  He refused.  Cpl. Winder then drove McNeely to a local hospital and requested a blood sample.  McNeely again refused.  Cpl. Winder told a lab technician to take McNeely’s blood.  That sample’s alcohol content was 0.154 percent, nearly twice Missouri’s legal limit.

At trial, Cpl. Winder stated he had read a journal article in which he learned that Missouri’s implied consent law changed in 2010 to conclude that driving upon Missouri’s roadways implies automatic consent to sobriety testing.  The wording “none shall be given” had been removed from the refusal wording of the law, thus when McNeely refused tests of his breath and blood, Cpl. Winder said he was free to involuntarily obtain the sample.

This is a huge Fourth Amendment case and the ACLU is representing McNeely in today’s arguments.  I doubt the High Court will side with Cpl. Winder in this matter, as it opens up much broader search parameters than was begrudgingly allowed in Schmerber, which resulted in a narrow 5-4 ruling.

Regardless of the outcome, it will be yet another interesting law enforcement case in front of the Supremes this session…


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