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San Francisco DUI Lawyer - Blockbuster decision regarding blood draws

 Posted on April 18, 2013 in DUI


The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued a seminal decision this morning in Missouri v. McNeely ___ U.S. ___ (2103) - Docket No. 11-1425

The case presented the following issue on appeal:

“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?"

To put this in layman’s terms, the Court ruled upon whether police must normally obtain a search warrant before compelling a person arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence to submit to a needle injection for blood evidence.

Here is what the Court declared:

“We hold that in drunk-driving investigations, the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant."

Thus, blood-draws done without the arrestee’s express consent are presumptively unconstitutional absent a warrant. The presumption may be rebutted where it is demonstrated by the State that the totality of the circumstances reasonably necessitated drawing the blood before obtaining a warrant.

Justice Kennedy’s concurring opinion declared, in part, that: “….States and other governmental entities which enforce the driving laws can adopt rules, procedures, and protocols that meet the reasonableness requirements of the Fourth Amendment and give helpful guidance to law enforcement officials. And this Court, in due course, may find it appropriate and necessary to consider a case permitting it to provide more guidance than it undertakes to give today.

“As the opinion of the Court is correct to note, the instant case, by reason of the way in which it was presented and decided in the state courts, does not provide a framework where it is prudent to hold any more than that always dispensing with a warrant for a blood test when a driver is arrested for being under the influence of alcohol is inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment."

Only Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, declaring that the natural elimination of alcohol from the human body constitutes an exigent circumstance in all drunk driving cases.

There is certain to be a plethora of litigation arising out of this decision, particularly in those circumstances where blood-alcohol evidence is the only chemical test evidence.

As to whether California’s implied consent law trumps this seminal decision, the concurring opinion by Chief Justice Roberts makes clear that under implied consent statutes, a motorist may still get his license suspended for withdrawing consent and refusing to submit to chemical testing demanded without a warrant. However, the implied consent statute does not constitute an exception to the warrant requirement where the motorist withdraws his consent.

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