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Warrantless DWI Blood Tests Violate the United States Constitution Rules U.S. Supreme Court in Today’s Opinion, Missouri v. McNeely: Police Need a Warrant Before DWI Blood Test

This morning there’s big news out of Washington D.C. for those defending DWI cases, something that prosecutors and police probably aren’t going to be happy to learn.

The United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Missouri v. McNeely, a DWI case where there was a blood test taken from a man without his consent and without a warrant.  The High Court has ruled that it is not constitutional to take someone’s blood for testing because the police officer suspects they may be intoxicated without that officer having a proper search warrant to do so.

You can read the opinion here, as it has been placed on the United States Supreme Court website.

Warrantless DWI Blood Tests Violate the United States Constitution

1.  What happened in Missouri that impacts Texas?

Awhile back, a man named Tyler McNeely was pulled over on a rural Missouri road by a Missouri State Trooper after the trooper reported McNeely’s car was driving over the speed limit.  Mr. McNeely, with two prior DWI convictions on his record, was savvy enough to refuse a breath test at the scene.  He did perform some field sobriety tests, and they suggested to the trooper that McNeely was intoxicated.

So, Tyler McNeely was handcuffed and driven to a nearby hospital by the state trooper where his blood was taken without a search warrant.  That blood test showed a BAC of  0.154 % (the Missouri legal limit is 0.08%).

2. McNeely Appeals His Case, Arguing Unreasonable Search and Seizure against State of Missouri  and even Eric Holder

The Missouri man fought his DWI case by appealing on the federal constitutional issue that it is against the search and seizure protections of the federal constitution to take someone’s blood from their body for a DWI blood test without getting a search warrant before taking (seizing) it.  He argued that it’s unconstitutional to do so, and the fact that the blood test in his particular case showed his blood to have two times the Missouri legal blood alcohol content is irrelevant.

And he won his fight.

First, the Missouri Supreme Court (as well as the lower Missouri appellate court) both ruled that the blood test taken at the Missouri hospital was in violation of constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure and was therefore not admissible evidence against Mr. McNeely.

The highest court in the State of Missouri held that the police can take blood without a warrant only when the situation involves the possibility that evidence may otherwise be destroyed or in situations where someone’s life is in danger.  That’s it.

The appeals didn’t end there.  This argument continued to the federal courts with the Office of the Attorney General of the United States representing the Obama Administration before the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that warrantless DWI blood tests should be held constitutional in this country.  (Read the brief filed by the Justice Department here.)

3.  The U.S. Supreme Court Confirms Today That Warrantless Blood Tests are Unconstitutional

The Supreme Court Justices voted in the citizen’s favor (8-1) and ruled that it’s not enough for police to argue that BAC levels will fall because the alcohol leaves the system before the search warrant can be obtained logistically (the government’s argument): that isn’t enough to sidestep the protections placed against search and seizure by the Founding Fathers in the U.S. Constitution.

Which means that in Texas today, unlike yesterday, it’s been made clear by the highest court in the land that when some refuses a DWI blood test, then the police must get a search warrant (where a judge has found probable cause) before the blood can be taken – unless special circumstances exist in a particular case.

To learn more about search and search, check our website’s resource materials for information.

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