Texas DWI Defense: US Supreme Court declines to create an exception to the warrant requirement of the 4th Amendment in all DWI cases

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Supreme Court photo by Eric E. Johnson

Texas DWI Defense: US Supreme Court declines to create an exception to the warrant requirement of the 4th Amendment in all DWI cases

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Overview:
In the case of Missouri v. McNeely, the Supreme Court of the United States was presented with issue of whether law enforcement may conduct forced (non-consensual), warrantless blood draws in all driving while intoxicated (DWI) investigations without violating the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In McNeely, the Court expressly rejected the government’s argument that due to the evanescent nature of blood alcohol evidence that there were sufficient “exigent circumstances” present in every DWI investigation that should excuse law enforcement from complying with the structures of the Fourth Amendment and its warrant requirement.

Specifically, the Court affirmed (upheld) the ruling of both the trial court and the Missouri Supreme Court which had suppressed (excluded from evidence) a non-consensual, warrantless blood draw, taken by hospital personnel at the direction of law enforcement to be analyzed for alcohol concentration in a felony DWI investigation. The Court again made clear that a compelled intrusion into the human body (in this case a forced intrusion beneath the skin to obtain blood) conducted for the primary purpose of obtaining potential evidence in a criminal prosecution was a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and therefore subject to its warrant requirement. The Court then ruled that under the facts of this case the government did not meet its burden of demonstrating sufficient cause to excuse their failure to obtain an evidentiary search warrant from a neutral and detached magistrate before ordering the forcible extraction of blood from the human body.


Facts:
McNeely involved a person pulled over late at night for speeding and problems maintaining lane position.  After the officer made contact with Mr. McNeely, the officer stated he noticed that he exhibited many of the signs the officer associated with persons that were intoxicated.  McNeely preformed the roadside tests and was arrested shortly thereafter for the felony offense of DWI (due to the fact he had two prior convictions).  The officer then read to him the standard paperwork under the “implied consent” laws of that state.  On the way to the jail, McNeely indicated that he would refuse to voluntarily submit to an evidentiary breath test at the jail and the officer the decided to take him to a nearby hospital rather than the jail as originally planned.  Upon arriving at the hospital, and without first attempting to obtain a search warrant authorizing the non-consensual blood draw, the officer ordered the hospital staff  to forcibly extract a sample of blood from the body of the suspect.  The hospital staff complied and conducted a compelled blood draw and extracted blood which was  later analyzed in order to determine his blood alcohol concentration for use in evidence in the criminal prosecution. 

Read the whole ruling.

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