The US Supreme Court decided Wednesday April 17, 2013, that the fact that alcohol dissipates from the bloodstream over time does not by itself give police the right to draw blood without a warrant in drunken-driving investigations.
The Court heard that case of Missouri versus Tyler G. McNeely, who was pulled over for speeding in Missouri and exhibited signs of intoxication, including bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and the smell of alcohol on his breath. He also performed poorly on a field sobriety test and was arrested for DUI.
McNeely refused to take a breath test and, after being taken to a hospital, to consent to a blood test. A blood test was performed anyway, about 25 minutes after he was pulled over. It showed a blood alcohol level of 0.15 percent, close to twice the legal limit.
The lower court suppressed the evidence, ruling there had been no "exigent circumstances" that excused the failure to obtain a warrant. The State court said "Warrantless intrusions of the body are not to be undertaken lightly" .
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and, Anthony M. Kennedy, affirmed the state court's decision. Sotomayor said factors had to be considered in deciding whether a warrant was needed.
Among the relevant considerations, Sotomayor said, are "the practical problems of obtaining a warrant within a time frame that still preserves the opportunity to obtain reliable evidence." Sotomayor said technological developments made promptly obtaining a warrant possible in many circumstances.
Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, stating "Nothing in the Fourth Amendment requires officers to allow evidence essential to enforcement of drunk-driving laws to be destroyed while they wait for a warrant to issue,"
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