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Bood Testing in Drunk Driving Cases

Massachusetts Registry News

In a case of interest to DUI lawyers across the country, the U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether police officers can obtain blood from a DUI suspect without a search warrant and the driver’s consent. Recognizing the important privacy implications of this case, the American Civil Liberties Union is representing Tyler McNeely, the Missouri DUI defendant who had his blood drawn without his permission and without a warrant.

A Missouri State Trooper stopped McNeely for speeding and the police noticed signs and symptoms of alcohol intoxication. McNeely failed field sobriety tests and he was arrested for operating under the influence of alcohol. When McNeely refused to submit to a breathalyzer, the trooper brought him to a medical clinic to have his blood drawn, without his permission.

The blood test showed that McNeely had a blood alcohol content of .154 which is almost double the legal limit of .08. The question to be decided whether it was legal to use the blood alcohol result against McNeely at his DUI trial or did the warrantless blood test violate McNeely’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The police claimed that they should have been excused from the requirement to obtain a search warrant on the grounds that there was not sufficient time, as the evidence of alcohol intoxication would have dissipated by the time the warrant was obtained. This is known as “exigent circumstances,” and in some cases these “exigent circumstances” have excused compliance with the general rule that police obtain a warrant prior to conducting searches.

Even if the Supreme Court rules that search warrants are not required in Missouri v. McNeely , it is highly unlikely that Massachusetts Police Officers will be allowed to conduct warrantless blood draws in Massachusetts OUI cases. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has, on many occasions, interpreted Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights to provide greater protections than the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution in the area of searches and seizures. Warrantless blood draws in drunk driving cases are likely to be unconstitutional pursuant to Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, even if they are permissible under the 4th Amendment.

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