We are constantly reminded of the notion that there are no absolutes in the law. The moment you become comfortable with a rule, it changes. Such is the nature of our constantly evolving system of laws, which is on a constant course of clarification and hopefully, improvement.
One week ago, we discussed the possibility of an officer forcing a DUI suspect to submit to a blood test. Though the rule hasn't changed in the last week, it may change in the near future.
The existing rule, per a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision, is that officers are privileged to restrain you and draw blood because blood-alcohol content evidence is time sensitive and the expiring nature of the evidence leaves no time for warrants and other Fourth Amendment required procedures.
After nearly fifty years, forced blood draws will come before the Supreme Court again. In the case of Missouri v. McNeely, the defendant, Tyler McNeely, was pulled over for a routine traffic stop. The patrolman noticed telltale signs of intoxication, such as bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and the smell of booze on his breath. When McNeely refused a breath test, he was taken to a hospital and had blood withdrawn without his consent. The results indicated that he was above the legal limit.
The Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the blood draw was unconstitutional. In the 1966 Supreme Court Case, the urgency was heightened by the time it took to investigate the accident and transport the defendant to the hospital. In the present case, the suspect was taken directly to the hospital after the traffic stop. There was no additional urgency beyond the dissipating nature of blood alcohol evidence.
Other courts, including Utah, Iowa, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes California), have agreed with this distinction. Wisconsin, Oregon, and Minnesota have taken the opposite view and the law in those states is that alcohol dissipation alone is sufficient.
Why do we, as Californians, care about the rule in all of these other states? Ordinarily, we wouldn’t. Their court rulings have little to no impact on our own. However, when a case is appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, the ruling in that case applies throughout the country.
If SCOTUS agrees that additional circumstances, such as the time delay of an accident, are necessary to justify forced blood draws, that will become the law here in California. If they side with Wisconsin, Oregon, and Minnesota, any drunk driver can have blood taken from him by force more as a matter of course. The case will be argued at some point during the court’s present term, which ends in June.
- Discuss Your Case With a Los Angeles DUI Lawyer (FindLaw)
- Implied Consent: Should You Refuse a Blood or Breath Test? (FindLaw’s Los Angeles DUI Blog)
- What to Do When Pulled Over for a DUI: Three Tips (FindLaw’s Los Angeles DUI Blog)
- Killing Someone While DUI: Manslaughter or ‘Watson Murder?’ (FindLaw’s Los Angeles DUI Blog)