Supreme Court to rule on whether police can force DUI suspects to undergo blood tests without warrants
The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Wednesday in a case testing whether police must get a warrant before forcing a drunken driving suspect to have his blood drawn. The court has long held that search warrants are ordinarily required when government officials order intrusions into the body — intrusions like drawing blood from an unwilling individual. The court has reasoned that such intrusions amount to a bodily search and thus are covered by the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. But the court has also ruled that there are exceptions to that requirement in what are called exigent situations — emergencies. And Wednesday's case tests how broad the definition of an emergency may be.The case began in Missouri in 2010. Tyler McNeely was driving 56 mph in a 45 mph zone at 2 a.m., when he was stopped by state highway Patrolman Mark Winder. The officer administered four field sobriety tests. McNeely failed all of them, and when he refused to submit to a Breathalyzer test, he was arrested and taken to a hospital, where he also refused to allow his blood to be drawn. Although Winder had gotten warrants in the past without difficulty in such situations, he did not try to get one this time. He ordered the blood drawn. It showed a blood alcohol level well above the legal limit, and McNeely was charged with driving under the influence.At trial, though, the judge threw out the blood test because it was obtained without a warrant. The Missouri state Supreme Court unanimously agreed, noting that there were no events that would have interfered with getting a warrant — there was no accident to investigate, no injury requiring medical attention, and a judge was on call to review a warrant application quickly. The state court said that under these circumstances, there was no justification for failing to get a warrant before forcing an unwilling suspect to have his blood drawn.The state of Missouri appealed, contending that because alcohol dissipates in the bloodstream over time, that alone constitutes an emergency situation that justifies forcing a blood draw without a warrant.