In Missouri v. McNeely, [i] the United States Supreme Court examined the constitutionality of a forced blood draw on a person who had refused a breathalyzer test.   The Court outlined the facts as follows:

` While on highway patrol at approximately 2:08 a.m., a Missouri police officer stopped McNeely’s truck after observing it exceed the posted speed limit and repeatedly cross the centerline. The officer noticed several signs that McNeely was intoxicated, including McNeely’s bloodshot eyes, his slurred speech, and the smell of alcohol on his breath. McNeely acknowledged to the officer that he had consumed “a couple of beers” at a bar, App. 20, and he appeared unsteady on his feet when he exited the truck. After McNeely performed poorly on a battery of field-sobriety tests and declined to use a portable breath-test device to measure his blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the officer placed him under arrest.

The officer began to transport McNeely to the station house. But when McNeely indicated that he would again refuse to provide a breath sample, the officer changed course and took McNeely to a nearby hospital for blood testing. The officer did not attempt to secure a warrant. Upon arrival at the hospital, the officer asked McNeely whether he would consent to a blood test. Reading from a standard implied consent form, the officer explained to McNeely that under state law refusal to submit voluntarily to the test would lead to the immediate revocation of his driver’s license for one year and could be used against him in a future prosecution. McNeely nonetheless refused. The officer then directed a hospital lab technician to take a blood sample, and the sample was secured at approximately 2:35 a.m. Subsequent laboratory testing measured McNeely’s BAC at 0.154 percent, which was well above the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

McNeely was charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI), in violation of §577.010.

The Missouri courts determined that the forced blood draw violated the 4th Amendment as an unreasonable search and seizure.

In reviewing the case, the United States Supreme Court recognized that exigency, by way of destruction of evidence, is an exception to the warrant requirement.  The question here is whether the natural dissipation of alcohol in a person’s system would establish a bright-line rule based on exigency, such that law enforcement would not need a warrant under the 4th Amendment in order to carry out a forced blood draw on a subject suspected of driving while impaired.

The Court began its analysis by noting that whether or not an officer has exigency is determined by reviewing the totality of circumstances.  At the outset, the Court distinguished its decision in Schmerber v. California, [ii] by noting that in Schmerber the officer’s ability to take the time to get a warrant was hampered by the fact that Schmerber was injured and had to be taken to the hospital after being involved in a traffic collision.  The Court also noted that when Schmerber was decided it was not as easy to obtain warrants by mechanisms such as the telephonic warrant.

The Court refused to adopt a per se exigency exception for routine DUI cases and determined that there would have to be articulable exigent circumstances before a blood draw would be allowed in the absence of a warrant or consent.

The Court noted that a blood draw is highly intrusive by asserting:

“That principle applies to the type of search at issue in this case, which involved a compelled physical intrusion beneath McNeely’s skin and into his veins to obtain a sample of his blood for use as evidence in a criminal investigation. Such an invasion of bodily integrity implicates an individual’s most personal and deep-rooted expectations of privacy.”

The Court noted that there will be cases where the dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream coupled with other factors will justify a warrantless blood draw based upon exigency.  The exigency in such cases must be articulated and does not result simply from the fact that alcohol dissipates in the body over a period of time.  Thus, the Court refused to establish an automatic rule that exigency exists in all DUI cases due to the dissipation of alcohol in the blood and instead adopted a case by case, totality of the circumstances approach where exigency beyond mere dissipation of alcohol in the blood would have to be established.


[i] Missouri v. McNeely, 2013 U.S. LEXIS 3160 (2013).

[ii] Schmerber v. California, 384 U. S. 757 (1966).

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