Nation’s highest court weighing issue of mandatory blood alcohol testing for suspected drunk drivers

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case from Missouri that, depending on the court's decision, could potentially affect the way that blood alcohol tests are performed around the nation.

The case

The case at issue concerns a Missouri resident suspected of driving while intoxicated. The defendant in that case, Tyler McNeeley, was initially pulled over for speeding in the wee hours of the morning on October 3, 2010. At that time, the officer noted several typical indicators of intoxication, including slurred words, a smell of alcohol and bloodshot eyes.

The officer administered field sobriety tests that Mr. McNeeley failed, and asked for consent to perform breath or blood testing, which McNeeley lawfully refused to provide. At that time, the officer had two choices: 1) obtain a warrant to get a blood sample over the suspect's objections, or 2) have the sample forcibly taken. The officer took McNeeley into custody and transported him to a nearby hospital to have blood drawn, after which time an alcohol test revealed Mr. McNeeley's blood alcohol level to be almost twice the legal limit of .08 percent. Based on the result of the blood alcohol test, McNeeley was charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI).

The argument

McNeeley is being represented in his appeal by the American Civil Liberties Union, an advocacy organization dedicated to protecting personal constitutional freedoms. They argue on McNeeley's behalf that the officer had no right to have a blood sample drawn without a warrant over McNeeley's objections. The officer testified that he assumed that a recent law change had granted the permission, and, alternately, that the natural dissipation of alcohol from a subject's body was an exigent circumstance that called for the collection of a sample without delay.

The Missouri Supreme Court disagreed, though, saying that the mere dissipation of evidence in a subject's body due to the passage of time is not the type of exigent circumstance that the warrantless search exemption was meant to address.

What does this mean for Virginia drivers?

Well, nothing. Yet. The case has not yet been decided by the Supreme Court. A definite decision - either accepting the state's argument about warrantless blood draws being proper in DUI/DWI cases to prevent evidence destruction or McNeeley's argument that the arresting officer should have taken the time to obtain a warrant before the sample was drawn - could possibly change the way drunk driving cases are handled across the country.

In the meantime, though, Virginia drivers are generally not subjected to warrantless blood draws in standard DWI/DUI cases, but each case is different. If you or a loved one has been charged with DWI/DUI in Virginia, you need to mount an aggressive defense in order to protect your legal rights and minimize consequences. A skilled criminal defense attorney can help, so seek the advice of one in your area as soon as possible after charges are brought.

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