U.S. Supreme Court considers warrantless blood draws for DWI arrests

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

On January 9, 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Missouri v. McNeely, a case addressing the issue of the constitutionality of police obtaining blood samples from those arrested for suspicion of driving while intoxicated and are refusing chemical testing when police have not gotten warrants to draw blood. Drivers in New York should be aware of the facts of the case before the Court, as well as the arguments each side advanced.

DWI arrest

The case stems from an arrest of a Missouri man police say was swerving and travelling 11 m.p.h. over the speed limit at 2 a.m. Police suspected the man was intoxicated and administered field sobriety tests, which the driver failed. Police arrested the driver and he refused to allow police to administer a Breathalyzer test or draw his blood to test his blood alcohol concentration. Police took the driver to the local hospital and ordered a phlebotomist to draw the man's blood while he was handcuffed.

The driver was later convicted of DWI charges, but appealed arguing that police should have gotten a warrant before drawing his blood because drawing blood constitutes a search for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment. The Missouri Supreme Court threw out the blood test, reasoning that there was nothing that would have prevented the police officer from obtaining a warrant rapidly. The Court noted that the officer himself had admitted that he has easily gotten warrants in similar situations in the past.

Warrants required for blood draws?

Missouri appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, urging the Court to issue a new exception to the warrant requirement saying that police never need warrants for blood draws in DWI cases because of the nature of the evidence they are trying to gather - alcohol dissipates quickly, and the accuracy of the test may be compromised if police spend time getting a warrant.

The driver argued that there is no need to create a blanket exception to the protections of the Fourth Amendment preventing unreasonable searches and seizures. In many cases, police have no trouble obtaining such warrants and getting a warrant causes only a short delay. Police can now apply for warrants with cell phones and laptop computers from their cars.

Furthermore, 25 states already require warrants for blood draws, barring exigent circumstances - showing the prevalence of the idea that the state sticking a needle in a person's arm is precisely the type of situation to which the Fourth Amendment applies.

Talk to a lawyer

DWI charges are serious matters, and convictions on such charges can carry severe penalties. If you have been charged with an alcohol-related driving offense, speak with an experienced DWI defense attorney who can help ensure your rights are protected.