A significant new ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court could and will have consequences nationwide for drivers accused of DUI. A landmark ruling arising from the DUI arrest of Tyler McNeely, a Missouri man, establishes that police must generally obtain a warrant before subjecting an unwilling DUI suspect to a direct blood alcohol test, usually performed in a hospital setting.
The story began late one night on a Missouri road when a state trooper observed McNeely driving erratically. The trooper pulled him over and began to investigate for DUI, but McNeely refused to take a Breathalyzer test. As would later be argued in the nation's highest court by the plaintiff, the State of Missouri, the trooper now faced an emergency, wherein the evidence of the crime (i.e., McNeely's blood alcohol level) would be degraded by any delay, as his body metabolized and digested the alcohol he'd consumed.
Under this reasoning, the trooper drove McNeely to a local hospital and ordered a blood alcohol test, and did so without seeking a warrant (even though he had done so in previous cases). But in a majority opinion written by newest Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Supreme Court disagreed, noting that in most circumstances, sufficient time is available for officers to obtain a warrant. With modern technology, officers can use cell phones and email to quickly communicate with the magistrates who authorize warrants and who are available at any hour in most jurisdictions.
In the case of a genuine emergency requiring officers to proceed without a warrant, she said, those exceptions must be made on a case-by-case basis and later justified in court. Additionally, the opinion pointed out that some delays inevitably occur, as officers must typically take a suspect to a hospital for a blood draw.
What does this mean for drivers accused of DUI? Potentially, everything. If the evidence in your case was obtained by means of a forcible blood draw, that evidence might no longer be admissible. As always, consult an attorney for further questions about how this new ruling may affect your case.
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