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Supreme Court to consider forced tests for DUI suspects

This news story was published on September 26, 2012.
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U.S. Supreme Court

By David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether motorists suspected of drunken driving who refuse to take a breath test can be forced to have their blood drawn at a hospital.

The ruling in a Missouri case, expected early next year, will help define the powers of the police and the rights of motorists when they are stopped for driving while intoxicated.

In most states, drivers must consent as a condition of obtaining a license that they will submit to a test of their breath, blood or urine if stopped on suspicion of drunken driving. Failing to do so can mean their driver’s license will be revoked. Moreover, a jury can be told their refusal to be tested is evidence of guilt.

But judges in some states have balked at going further and forcing suspects to have their blood drawn against their will. Several state high courts have deemed this an “unreasonable search” in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The U.S. high court said it would hear an appeal from Missouri prosecutors who argued that because alcohol in the body quickly dissipates, police need to act fast and require suspected drunken drivers to undergo either a breath test or a blood test.

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union argued that a police officer must obtain a search warrant from a magistrate before compelling a suspect to undergo a blood test.

“In the middle of the night, it’s not always easy to get a search warrant. You usually have a delay of a couple of hours,” said John Koester Jr., the Missouri prosecutor who brought the appeal.

The case began about 2 a.m. on Oct. 3, 2010, when a Missouri highway patrol officer stopped Tyler McNeely for speeding. McNeely’s speech was slurred, and when he stepped from the car, he was unsteady on his feet and failed the roadside sobriety tests, the officer said.

But when put in a patrol car, McNeely refused to provide a breath sample. The officer then drove him to a hospital where he ordered a lab technician to take a blood sample from McNeely. The test showed an alcohol content of 0.154 percent, nearly double the legal limit of 0.08 percent. The officer made no attempt to obtain a search warrant.

In court, McNeely said the incriminating test results should be thrown out because the forced blood test violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment. A trial judge agreed, as did the Missouri Supreme Court in March.

The U.S. Supreme Court justices gathered Monday to go over appeals that arrived during the summer, and announced Tuesday they will hear six new cases, including Missouri vs. McNeely.

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18 Responses to Supreme Court to consider forced tests for DUI suspects

  1. Anonymous Reply Report comment

    September 30, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Most states have “implied consent” laws, meaning if you refuse a chemical test you lose your license automatically with no appeal for one year. The point of DUI stops is to get drunk drivers off the road and by the already standing laws they do just that. The forced blood draws (which only happen with a refusal) are a violation of the 4th and 5th amendment of the Constitution and should be stopped. I don’t agree with drunk driving and if convicted there should be harsh penalties but we should never violate the Constitution, the document that all our laws should be based on, for the reason that it would be inconvenient not to.

    Again I say that if there is a refusal the person already loses their license for at least a year, we have got them off the streets. What beyond this do we need to do that is worth trampling all over our Constitution?

  2. Observer Reply Report comment

    September 29, 2012 at 2:04 am

    I don’t like the idea of running roughshod over constitutional guarantees. The current process as defined by court decisions requires anyone demanding a medical procedure against one’s will, must have that approved by a judge after providing probable cause.

    Texas for example has an implied concent law, whereas if you refuse a breathalizer test, you imply that the state has the right to take a sample of your blood if there is probable cause that you are intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle. The guidelines of what constitutes probable cause is quite tight.

    Under Federal Law, people in the Transportation industry are subject to random testing. If one refuses a random test for what ever reason, operator certification is automatically revoked pending further review. This is another type of implied consent, in which courts have supported, after the government proved there was a compelling interest.

  3. Bobby G Reply Report comment

    September 26, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    Might as well Obama is going to force all of us to have health insurance. Pretty soon it will be what time of day to take a crap. And what color of pills you should take.

  4. Katie Reply Report comment

    September 26, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Sorry. I think this is going too far. How would you feel if the drunk driver who kills a member of your family gets off because there is no proof he was drunk because a warrant couldn’t be obtained soon enough? If the driver has nothing to hide, s/he should have no problem blowing and submitting to a test. Refusal to do so should be proof of guilt.

    • Anonymous Reply Report comment

      September 26, 2012 at 4:39 pm

      A family member can be killed by a eighty-year old man,who cannot see,hear or walk,but yet he wont even get a ticket.

    • anonymous Reply Report comment

      September 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm

      Lets get rid of the fifth amendment, and if you don’t testify in your own defense at your trial you are guilty.

      • Katie Reply Report comment

        September 27, 2012 at 8:17 pm

        Sorry, I think evidence of intoxication is evidence the same as DNA, bruises, cuts, or any other evidence on the body of a suspect. I think there needs to be an automatic standing warrant for collection of blood alcohol for evidence, especially if there is an injury or property damage, since time is of the essence. Lawyers are only trying to find a loophole to keep guilty people out of jail. Our supreme court needs to close this loophole because of the nature of the testing.

      • anonymous Reply Report comment

        September 30, 2012 at 8:36 pm

        They should pull over every old person on the road and draw blood to test for all the prescription drugs they are on to make sure it is okay for them to be driving.

      • Katie Reply Report comment

        September 30, 2012 at 11:24 pm

        It is up to doctors to determine that when they prescribe the drugs whether or not the patient should have his drivers rights terminated. I read a case where a doctor was sued for not taking away a patient’s license. The doctor was not found guilty, but you can bet there will be more of these cases in the future.

      • Kunstler's Ghost Reply Report comment

        October 1, 2012 at 11:09 am

        You realize, don’t you, that repealing the 5th Amendment would then allow the government to take your property for public (or private) use without compensation? Why stop at the 5th? Let’s get rid of the 1st and 2nd while were at it. No free press. State run religion. No guns. Prefer trial by combat? There goes the 6th. Prefer to be punished nine times for the same crime? Or maybe the death penalty for traffic tickets? Go ahead, repeal the 8th. The Bill of Rights is there for a reason. It’s a careful balance of all the competing interests. Our system of self government requires them all to function properly.

    • TheRealFred Reply Report comment

      September 26, 2012 at 6:46 pm

      He wouldn’t get off just because he refused a test. He could easily be proven guilty of DUI, happens all the time. Even if he isn’t, he is still guilty of vehicular homicide.

    • Kunstler's Ghost Reply Report comment

      October 1, 2012 at 11:14 am

      No one should be required to submit evidence against her will for the State to use to prosecute. If the person refuses, get a warrant. Simple solution. At least you insert a neutral and detactched magistrate who decides whether there is probable cause for a blood draw. If it’s a few hours since the accident, then you can always find an expert witness who will use retrograde extrapolation to estimate the BAC at the time.

  5. TheRealFred Reply Report comment

    September 26, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    I don’t like the direction this potential ruling would take our country.

    • TheRealKyle Reply Report comment

      September 26, 2012 at 5:34 pm

      OK, just admit it. Your real name is Kyle Klinksiek.

  6. Kunstler's Ghost Reply Report comment

    September 26, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Yet another example of the DUI exception to the 4th Amendment.

  7. Rahmbo Reply Report comment

    September 26, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Odd, how can a police officer “order” a medical tech to draw blood?

    Medical procedures require patient consent at every step of the way, and that tech runs a real risk of losing whatever licensing he/she has by violating that.

    The only person who can “order” a medical procedure against a patient’s consent is a judge.