Supreme Court Rules Dissipation of Alcohol Alone Not Enough to Justify a Warrantless Blood Test; Dallas DUI Defense Lawyer Praises Decision

Share Article

In Missouri v. McNeely, the U.S. Supreme Court decided last week that the mere fact that alcohol dissipates in the blood does not, by itself, constitute an "exigent circumstance" that would justify police performing a blood test without a warrant. Dallas DUI defense lawyer Richard McConathy said the decision protects the Fourth Amendment rights of DUI suspects from an extremely invasive search.

"Had they decided another way, the Fourth Amendment would have essentially cast aside," said Dallas DUI lawyer Richard McConathy. "This is a good decision for liberty."

In a U.S. Supreme Court opinion handed down last week on the Missouri v. McNeely case (569 U. S. ____ (2013)), the Court rejected the argument that because alcohol dissipates into blood over time, police do not have to obtain a warrant to test the blood. The ruling protects the Fourth Amendment right against those accused of drunk driving, said Richard C. McConathy, a Dallas DUI defense lawyer.

"The Court decided against allowing the police to stick a needle into any person they suspect of DUI without consent or court oversight," McConathy said. "Had they decided another way, the Fourth Amendment would have essentially cast aside. This is a good decision for liberty."

According to Court documents, Tyler McNeely, the defendant, was pulled over by a state trooper in Missouri. The state trooper said he was unstable and asked him to perform a field sobriety test. McNeely consented, and failed the test. He then refused a blood test. The state trooper took McNeely to a hospital and ordered a blood test. McNeely refused, but the state trooper ordered a lab technician to perform the test, anyway.

The case tested the extent of "exigent circumstances," McConathy said. An exigent circumstance is a special circumstance that might override some procedural matters in Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. In this case, the exigent circumstance tested was the destruction of evidence, since, over time, alcohol dissipates into the blood, thereby, under Missouri's argument, destroying evidence against the defendant.

The matter of blood tests for DUI suspects had previously come up in Schmerber v. California (384 U.S. 757 (1966)). In that case, the officer took the suspect to the hospital due to injuries and ordered a blood test because he did not have time to seek a warrant. The Court did rule that blood dissipation constituted an exigent circumstance in that case. In McNeely, the state attempted to have the Court extend the rule to all circumstances.

While not overturning Schmerber, the Court ruled in McNeely that its ruling in that case applied to very specific circumstances. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that "where police officers can reasonably obtain a warrant before a blood sample can be drawn without significantly undermining the efficacy of the search, the Fourth Amendment mandates that they do so."

Under the ruling, it is still possible for a warrantless blood test to be admissible, McConathy said. However, the Court made it clear that the admissibility is very narrow and only applicable to when it is truly impossible to obtain a warrant. Furthermore, it staved off the prosecution's attempt to skip warrants altogether for DUI case, McConathy said.

"The state's desired ruling would have been disastrous for the Fourth Amendment," said the Fort Worth DUI test attorney. "The state wanted to be able to perform one of the most invasive searches available — actually sticking a needle into the defendant's body — without a warrant, for every DUI suspect.

"The ruling made clear that option is available only in very rare circumstances."

McConathy further pointed out that Schmerber was decided in 1966, before the advent of cell phones, email and texting.

"Nowadays, there is no excuse for not being able to getting in touch with a judge to sign a warrant before blood dissipates," McConathy said. "While the Court may have not found that a warrant is always necessary, it may be that, in practice, blood dissipation never constitutes an exigent circumstance."

Richard McConathy, of the Law Offices of Richard C. McConathy, is a Dallas DUI defense lawyer who represents those accused of drunk driving throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Richard McConathy
Follow us on