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Supreme Court to Hear DUI Case

The U.S. Supreme Court recently announced that it will hear oral arguments in the case of Missouri v. McNeely, which presents the question whether the Fourth Amendment allows police officers to order those suspected of driving under the influence to undergo involuntary blood alcohol tests without a warrant. The case may impact not only the way in which police interact with the public on a daily basis, but also people's basic Fourth Amendment rights.

The Facts of McNeely

In October 2010, a Missouri state patrol officer stopped Tyler McNeely at 2:00am for speeding. In the course of the routine stop, the trooper began to suspect that McNeely had been drinking and he requested that he perform a series of four field sobriety tests. McNeely failed each field sobriety test and the officer requested that he submit to a Breathalyzer test to confirm his blood alcohol content. McNeely refused. The officer then transported McNeely to a local health care facility, where he requested that McNeely submit to a blood test. Once again, McNeely refused. Upon McNeely's refusal, the officer ordered medical staff to perform the test. Tests confirmed that McNeely's blood alcohol content was far above the .08 limit and he was arrested for drunk driving.

Before trial, McNeely's attorney sought to exclude the blood alcohol level evidence on the basis that the tests were performed without a warrant and were, therefore, performed in violation of McNeely's Fourth Amendment rights. Prosecutors argued, however, that the test was allowed by the Fourth Amendment because it was performed under "exigent circumstances": if the officer had waited to get a warrant to perform the test, McNeely's body would have metabolized the alcohol in his system, which would have amounted to the destruction of evidence.

The trial court agreed with McNeely's attorney and barred the blood evidence. The appeals court, however, agreed with prosecutors. The issue eventually went before the Missouri Supreme Court, which sided with McNeely.

In its decision, the Missouri Supreme Court cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1966, which allowed the warrantless testing of a DUI suspect. In that case, however, the officer was investigating the driver for a deadly accident and could not wait to obtain a warrant because the driver was scheduled for immediate surgery.

The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on McNeely in early January.

No-Refusal Weekends Circumvent the McNeely Issue

What McNeely may mean is that more states adopt Texas' "no-refusal weekend" procedure. On holidays such as the Fourth of July and New Year's Eve when drinking and driving is more common, authorities ask that judges be at the ready to approve warrants for blood alcohol testing. Even if a driver suspected of DUI refuses to submit to a Breathalyzer test, the police have easy access to the legal tools they need to perform a legal blood test.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or someone you love is facing DUI charges, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer can assess your case and help you protect your rights. For more information, contact an attorney today.