Today is the first Monday in October, the traditional date when the U.S Supreme reconvenes after its summer recess. This year, a criminal appeal from Missouri is one of the relatively few cases that the court has agreed to hear.
The name of the case is Missouri v. McNeely. It raises the issue of whether police, sheriff's deputies or other offices must obtain a warrant before ordering a blood test on someone suspected of drunk driving who does not consent to the test.
Or, put another way, the question is whether law enforcement is allowed to conduct a warrantless and nonconsensual blood sample from an alleged drunk driver. Generally the Fourth Amendment requires officers to obtain a warrant before conducting a search.
There is, however, a recognized exception to the warrant requirement when "exigent circumstances" are present. In Missouri v. McNeely, the state is arguing that the dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream with the passage of time constitutes such circumstances.
The lower court ruling was by the Missouri Supreme Court in January of this year. The Missouri high court held that a warrantless blood draw to test blood-alcohol level was not justified in this case. The defendant had been pulled over for on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, but there was no accident to investigate. The exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement was not met, as "there was no delay that would threaten the destruction of evidence before a warrant could be obtained."
In other words, law enforcement can't do an end run around the warrant requirement just because blood-alcohol level dissipates over time. Such dissipation, the Missouri Supreme Court held, is not a "per se exigency" that would bring the blood draw within the exigent circumstances exception.
During this U.S. Supreme Court term, we will find out whether the nation's highest court agrees.
Source: "Missouri v. McNeely, Scotusblog
Our firm handles situations similar to those discussed in this post. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Missouri criminal appeals page.