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U.S. Supreme Court: Police Must Get a Warrant Before Forcing a Blood Draw in a DUI / OVI Arrest

The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided a critically important case that could affect many Ohioans who have been charged with an OVI / DUI.  If you did not consent to a blood draw, and the officer forced you to do a blood test without a warrant, read on.

This is what happened in the case.  The defendant was stopped by a Missouri police officer for speeding and crossing the centerline. After declining to take a breath test, he was arrested and taken to a nearby hospital for blood testing. The officer never attempted to secure a search warrant.

The defendant refused to consent to the blood test, but the officer directed a lab technician to take a sample.  The defendant’s BAC tested well above the legal limit, and he was charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI).  He moved to suppress the blood test result, arguing that taking his blood without a warrant violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

The defendant won in the trial court and in the Missouri Supreme Court, both of which concluded that the exigency (emergency) exception to the warrant requirement did not apply because, apart from the fact that McNeely’s blood alcohol was dissipating, no circumstances suggested that the officer faced an emergency.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, finding that in drunk-driving investigations, “the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant.”

First and foremost, the police cannot search you (including drawing blood) without your consent or a warrant—unless a recognized exception applies.  One recognized exception applies when ‘”the exigencies of the situation” make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that a warrantless search is objectively reasonable.”

The prosecutor in the case sought a per se (always applies) rule, arguing that exigent or emergency circumstances necessarily exist when an officer has believes a person has been driving under the influence of alcohol because blood alcohol evidence will naturally decline over time.

But even though blood alcohol levels naturally decline, the U.S. Supreme Court found that this fact doesn’t mean officers have free reign to force blood draws on unwilling arrestees.

Rather, when officers in drunk-driving investigations can reasonably obtain a warrant before having a blood sample drawn without significantly undermining the efficacy of the search, the Fourth Amendment mandates that they must do so.

The Court instead opted for a case by case analysis.  Whether an officer this “emergency” exception applies to allow an officer to force a blood draw on an unwilling suspect depends will depend many factors that courts should examine case by case.

This ruling could have a significant impact on OVI cases here in Ohio.  If you refuse a blood test, and an officer is able to obtain a warrant, they must get a warrant before taking your blood.

If the officer does not get a warrant before drawing your blood, a court may now find that the blood draw violates your Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches.  This would mean that any evidence of your blood alcohol level obtained from the draw would be inadmissible in court—making it MUCH harder for the prosecutor to prove her case.

With this brand new case law on the books, it is even more critical that you consult a trusted OVI lawyer if you are facing an OVI charge in Columbus or Central Ohio.  This new case law could mean the difference between a conviction and a dismissal in your case.

The full text of the opinion can be found here:  Missouri v. McNeely, U.S. Supreme Court No. 11-1425