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Supreme Court To Decide If Blood Tests For DWI Require A Warrant

In 2010, Tyler McNeely was stopped for speeding shortly after 2 a.m. The officer that stopped him for speeding also observed that McNeely appeared visibly intoxicated - his speech was slurred, his eyes were bloodshot and he smelled of alcohol.

McNeely failed the field sobriety tests and refused a breath test. The officer then drove McNeely to a local hospital where his blood was drawn without McNeely's consent and without a warrant. The police officer had thought that the evidence of McNeely's intoxication would be destroyed (alcohol in his blood system would be metabolized by natural body processes) if he took the time to obtain a warrant.

McNeely's DWI defense attorney requested that the evidence from the warrantless blood test be excluded from the DWI case against him because it was an unreasonable search in violation of the 4th Amendment. The United States Supreme Court will now decide whether the natural dissipation over time of a driver's BAC is a reason that allows for a warrantless blood test in Missouri v. McNeely.

The officer's interpretation of Missouri's implied consent statute is consistent with the current implied consent law in North Carolina. N.C.G.S. 20-130.1(d1) allows a police officer to take a blood or urine sample from a driver who refuses a breath test without a warrant if the officer reasonably believes that the delay caused by getting a warrant would allow the person's blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) to dissipate or go down.

The outcome of McNeely's case at the U.S. Supreme Court could affect suspected drunk drivers in North Carolina who refuse the breath test and are then forced to give a blood sample without a warrant first being obtained.

Source: SFGate, "Forced Blood Tests in Drunk Driving Cases Get High Court Review," September 25, 2012

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