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Webinar explores blood testing in impaired driving cases after Missouri v. McNeely


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Webinar explores blood testing in impaired driving cases after Missouri v. McNeely

By John Glynn

Around 2 a.m. on October 3, 2010, Tyler Gabriel McNeely was stopped by a highway patrolman for speeding in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri. McNeely failed several field sobriety tests and was asked to submit to an alcohol blood test, which he refused. He was then transported to a medical clinic, where the staff administered a blood test without McNeely's consent. The test showed McNeely's blood-alcohol levels to be well above the legal limit, and he was charged with driving while intoxicated.


A trial judge ruled in McNeely's favor, stating that administering a blood test without a warrant was a violation of the suspect's Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. State prosecutors argued that administering the test without a warrant was justified as blood alcohol would be metabolized with time, and a delay in obtaining a warrant would amount to destruction of evidence, citing the "special facts" or "exigent circumstances" exception in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Schmerber v. California. A state appeals court agreed with the prosecutors and reversed the trial court decision but the Missouri Supreme Court reversed again, ruling in favor of McNeely and that the administration of the test was not justified.

A divided U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Missouri Supreme Court in Missouri v. McNeely in 2013. The Court held that if the police can reasonably obtain a warrant prior to conducting a non-consensual blood draw, the Fourth Amendment requires the police do so, and the lack of a warrant will not be excused by the “exigent circumstances” exception on the sole basis that blood alcohol evidence is being destroyed by the passage of time.  


The title of a Judicial Division webinar asks the key question for ABA members: “Blood testing in Impaired Driving Cases: What Now After Missouri v. McNeely?”   


 “McNeely is one of the most noteworthy cases in many years relating to impaired driving enforcement, and it is incumbent upon criminal justice practitioners to understand the scope, application and potential impact of the decision.  At its core, McNeely is a search and seizure case in which the Supreme Court revisits the balance between the government's legitimate interest in combating the pernicious problem of drunk driving and the Fourth Amendment rights of the individual. The key point for criminal justice practitioners to understand about McNeely is that the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement remains applicable in the drunk driving context,” said moderator Earl Penrod, judge of the Gibson Superior Court in Princeton, Ind.  


“The U.S. Supreme Court case of Missouri v. McNeely has answered some questions about blood draws in impaired driving cases, but it also raised many legal and factual questions:  What are the circumstances that give rise to exigent circumstances for a blood draw without a warrant? Does the case impact implied consent statutes? Is a good faith exception applicable? What happens when you have a warrant and the driver still refuses to acquiesce to the blood draw? As the states reconcile this important decision, the legal community, especially law enforcement, is left to review the McNeely progeny of cases,” said faculty member Mary Celeste, judge of the Denver County Court.


Faculty member and retired Judge Neil Edward Axel of the District Court of Maryland added: “The Supreme Court's decision in McNeely presents a fascinating case with significant ripple effects for the trial of impaired driving cases.   The Court's decision is based upon the premise that the taking of blood from an arrestee is a search subject to Fourth Amendment considerations.  On one level, the Court addressed the very narrow issue of whether the dissipation of alcohol in and of itself creates exigent circumstances that would obviate the need for a search warrant to obtain a blood sample.  On another level, it raises issues regarding the interaction between implied consent laws and consent as an exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement.”


Among the points made in the webinar: the dissipation in the body of THC (the active ingredient of marijuana) is different from that of alcohol; McNeely has been cited in 178 cases in the past 14 months (including the June 25 Supreme Court ruling on cellphone searches); all 50 states have adopted implied consent laws, which in numerous cases have been found to be constitutional; some states mandate a blood alcohol test if the driver has a certain number of prior DUI convictions; a nonconsensual blood draw may be constitutional, but there is also the question of whether it is admissible in court (moving from the Fourth Amendment considerations to Sixth Amendment considerations); and it is not necessary to advise an arrestee of their right to refuse consent. 


“Blood Testing in Impaired Driving Cases: What Now After Missouri v. McNeely?” was sponsored by the Judicial Division and the Center for Professional Development