Can the police draw your blood without a warrant? Supreme Court to decide

The United States Supreme Court recently decided to hear a case that could have an impact on the approximately 1.4 million people who are arrested nationwide for driving while intoxicated each year. The legal issue before the court is whether those who have been stopped on suspicion of DWI have Fourth Amendment protection against forced blood tests.

The case, Missouri v. McNeely, began when a highway patrol officer in Missouri pulled over Tyler McNeely for speeding. During the stop, the officer claimed that McNeely's behavior gave him cause to believe that he was intoxicated. The officer ordered McNeely out of the car and administered a field sobriety test; McNeely performed the test poorly. Due to McNeely's performance on the test, the officer asked him to submit to a blood test.

McNeely did not consent to the blood test. Because of this, the officer drove him to a clinic and instructed a staff member to draw blood from McNeely, over his protests. When the results of the blood test came back, they showed that McNeely's blood alcohol level was nearly two times the legal limit. As a result, McNeely was arrested for DWI.

Before the trial, McNeely's lawyers made a motion to exclude the blood test results from being used as evidence at the trial. To support the motion, the attorneys argued that the blood test results are inadmissible as evidence, because no search warrant was issued.

Prosecutors said that the blood test was admissible as evidence. They argued that in the time it would take to procure a warrant, the alcohol in McNeely's system would be metabolized. They argued that officers were legally justified in drawing the blood without a warrant, because a delay would cause a destruction of evidence and would weaken their claim that McNeely was driving drunk.

The Missouri trial judge ruled in favor of McNeely's attorneys, prohibiting the blood test results from being used as evidence. When the prosecution appealed the decision, the appeals court reversed the trial court's ruling. However, when the case was taken to the Missouri Supreme Court, it ruled that it was not legally justified for the officer to order the blood test without a warrant, because there were no special facts or "exigent circumstances" that would legally justify the hasty drawing of the blood.

Across the nation, courts are split on whether the dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream creates a sufficient emergency to legally justify the drawing of blood without a warrant. Since the United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, it will make the ultimate decision and resolve the nationwide differences on this legal point.

Ruling's effect on Texas law

The effect that the Supreme Court's ruling will have on Texas law is unclear. In the past, it has been common for certain counties in Texas to implement a "no refusal" weekend program where drivers accused of DUI are not allowed to refuse blood tests. However, due to the fact that the blood drawn under this program is pursuant to a judge-issued search warrant, it is fairly unlikely that the McNeely decision will affect the legality of such programs.

In Texas, a DWI suspect's blood may be drawn without a warrant for various DWI offenses such as third offense drunk driving and intoxication assault or manslaughter cases. However, the issue in the McNeely case is limited to whether the natural metabolism of blood is sufficient justification to allow warrantless drawing of blood. Since the McNeely case does not address whether such laws are constitutional, it is unclear if the decision will have any effect on this Texas law.

The McNeely case is not expected to be decided until spring of 2013. However the court rules, drunk driving will remain a serious offense in Texas and carry significant penalties. If you have been arrested for DWI, it is vital for you to protect your rights. An experienced criminal defense attorney can put together a strong and effective defense and work to obtain the best possible outcome.