Metabolizing Alcohol is Not an Exigent Circumstance: Warrants are required for DUI blood tests
Recently, a majority of States asked the Supreme Court to rule that warrants are not required for DUI blood tests. Answering this question in Missouri v. McNeely, the Supreme Court determined that DUI blood tests are a search under the 4th Amendment. Therefore, DUI blood tests will likely require a search warrant before they can be performed. Additionally, metabolizing of the alcohol in the blood by the body (which lowers the blood alcohol content) by itself is not sufficient to justify a "destruction of evidence" exigent circumstance exception to the 4th Amendment warrant requirement.
The case involved McNeely, who was stopped in Missouri for speeding and crossing the centerline. He refused to consent to a breathalyzer test, and then he was taken to hospital and forced to give a blood sample for a blood alcohol test without a warrant. His test showed he had high blood alcohol content. He attempted to suppress the blood evidence at his trial and the trial court agreed.
The Supreme Court declined to create a per se rule that an exigent circumstance exists for every roadside stop where an officer suspects drunk driving. Instead, the Court affirmed the case-by-case nature of determining whether exigencies exist. Thus, when it would be "reasonable to obtain a warrant before having a blood sample drawn without significantly undermining the efficacy of the search," the warrant is required. Further, the ease with which warrants can be obtained now compared to 50 years ago supports requiring warrants before DUI blood tests can be performed, absent any circumstances besides the metabolizing alcohol.
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