On Wednesday, April 17th, the Supreme Court ruled with an overwhelming majority that police officers must obtain a warrant before subjecting a DUI suspect to a blood test. Justice Clarence Thomas was the lone dissenter.
The case originated in southeast Missouri, on October 3, 2010, when Tyler McNeely was pulled over by a state trooper late one night and subjected to a breathalyzer test. The officer said he witnessed McNeely driving erratically, and suspected a DUI. McNeely refused the breathalyzer, so the officer drove him to a local hospital and subjected him to a blood test. Although the officer in previous cases had sought warrants for blood tests, in this case, he did not. The state of Missouri contended that, because alcohol naturally dissipates in the blood stream over time, more and more evidence would be lost the longer the state trooper waited for the test. Therefore, the state does not require a warrant for a blood test when officers suspect DUI.
About half of the states in the country already prohibit warrantless blood tests in DUI cases.
A circuit court threw out the evidence during McNeely’s trial, because it was obtained without the officer even attempting to get a warrant. The Missouri Supreme Court upheld the action, as it violated McNeely’s constitutional rights.
The Supreme Court agreed. They noted that most circumstances allow adequate time for officers to obtain a warrant. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote for the majority, said that modern technology like cell phones and email allowed officers to quickly obtain search warrants, including for blood tests in DUI cases, and that most jurisdictions had magistrates available at all hours.
Sotomayor noted that some dissipation of alcohol was inevitable, and that some emergency cases could require officers to bring in DUI suspects for blood tests before obtaining a warrant. However, those emergency cases must be looked at and justified later in court.
Doug Bonney, chief counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri, approved the Supreme Court’s decision. “It shows that the court understood that drunk-driving laws can be enforced in a way that is consistent with the Constitution,” he said, referencing the Fourth Amendment that protects against unreasonable search and seizure.
Implied Consent and Blood Tests for DUI In South Carolina
When you apply for and receive a driver’s license in South Carolina, you automatically consent to a future blood, breath or urine alcohol test, such as a breathalyzer, if requested by law enforcement. The consent is implied by the act of holding a driver’s license in this state.
The primary purpose of implied consent is to permit law enforcement to request that a blood sample be taken by qualified medical personnel in the event that a person is incoherent, unconscious or dead. Implied consent grants this authority without legal risk of violating personal rights.
However, if the person arrested for the suspicion of driving under the influence is conscious and coherent and able to provide consent, the officer must offer that person a breathalyzer test — to be performed within two hours of arrest — as well as inform them of their right to refuse. (For suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs, the same stipulation applies for a urine test.)
Blood Tests an DUI Charges Require Strong Defense
South Carolina has some of the strictest DUI laws in the country. Do not let charges or a conviction prevent you from seeking job or educational opportunities. You still have rights, even if you face a court date. If you were not informed of your right to refuse a breathalyzer, or you were forced to take a blood test before understanding your rights, the Strom Law Firm can help with DUI Charges. We offer free, confidential consultations, so the facts of your case can be discussed with impunity. Do not hesitate to contact us. 803.252.4800.