The nation’s highest court recently considered an important and divisive legal issue which could have a substantial effect on DUI cases in Florida and across the country: whether police officers should be required to get a warrant before forcing a person suspected of driving under the influence to take a blood test.
Missouri v. McNeely concerns the case of Tyler McNeely, who was pulled over by police officers in The Show Me State and exhibited many of the signs associated with intoxication, including bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and the smell of alcohol on his breath. McNeely refused to submit to a breath test and later declined a blood test after being transported to a hospital. His blood was drawn anyway and testing showed that his blood alcohol content was nearly double the legal limit.
A state trial court suppressed the blood test evidence at trial, ruling that the cops were required to get a warrant before taking McNeely’s blood. In 1966, the Supreme Court held that police officers could have blood extracted without a warrant from a driver in an accident resulting in injury to both the driver and another person. In that decision, the court not only focused on the principle that alcohol dissipates in the blood over time, but also noted the time lost investigating the accident and in transporting the injured parties to a hospital.
In the current case, the court is asked whether the fact that blood-alcohol levels subside with time, alone, is a sufficient basis for allowing a warrantless blood test. According to The New York Times’ Adam Liptak, the current crop of Justices seemed skeptical. “Several justices expressed discomfort with what Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. called the ‘pretty scary image’ of government-sanctioned bodily intrusions involving sharp needles,” Liptak wrote of oral argument in the case, which took place in early January.
Meanwhile, Missouri prosecutors and federal government attorneys told the court that the time it takes to obtain a warrant can vary from 15 to 20 minutes for those obtained by phone to more than two hours. During this time, blood-alcohol levels necessarily fall for a driver who has been drinking. On the other hand, American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Steven Shapiro told the court that “the privacy safeguards of the Fourth Amendment benefit by having a neutral and detached magistrate review the evidence before the state does something as intrusive as putting a needle in somebody’s arm.”
The outcome of the case – a decision is expected this summer – carries big implications for prosecutors, defense attorneys and drivers charged with DUI throughout the country. Currently Florida police officers typically seek a warrant before subjecting a driver suspected of DUI to a blood test. That all may change if the Supreme Court approves the warrantless method used in Missouri.
The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine are experienced in handling Florida DUI cases throughout the region, including in Hialeah, Boca Raton and Pompano Beach and consistently provide vigorous defense and high quality representation.
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