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Supreme Court Rules: Warrantless Blood Searches on DUI Suspects Unconstitutional

On April 17, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling regarding Missouri v. McNeely, that conducting warrantless searches for blood tests of drunk driving suspects is unconstitutional.

The ruling indicated that, under most circumstances, law enforcement must try to obtain a search warrant before forcing suspected impaired drivers to take a blood test to measure their blood alcohol content. The natural dissipation of alcohol in an individual’s blood does not constitute a per se emergency or exigency justifying a warrantless blood draw in every impaired driver case.

In Missouri v. McNeely, a Missouri man who was pulled over for a DUI stop was forced to take a blood test, after repeatedly refusing submit to a breathalyzer test. The test revealed that his blood alcohol content was nearly twice the legal limit. The case eventually reached the Missouri Supreme Court, where it was determined that a warrantless search for blood was unreasonable, as there was no emergency situation that prevented the police from obtaining a warrant.

The U.S. Supreme Court rightly concurred with the Missouri Supreme Court’s ruling in holding that Missouri violated McNeeley’s Fourth Amendment Right to be free from unreasonable searches.  Justice Sotomayor specifically wrote in the opinion that conducting blood tests to measure alcohol concentration is “an invasion of bodily integrity” and violates a person’s “most personal and deep rooted expectations of privacy.”  Further, though some impaired driver cases may present an exigency justifying a warrantless blood draw, the Fourth Amendment would not tolerate a per se rule that blood may be withdrawn in every case without a warrant.

As a result of the US Supreme Court’s ruling on the Missouri v. McNeely case, a part of Ohio’s OVI statute is likely unconstitutional.  Prior to this decision, officers were instructed that they could use “whatever reasonable means necessary” to secure a blood draw on certain repeat offenders.  The prosecution may argue that, due to repeat offenses leading to greater potential penalties, the severity of the offense combined with the dissipation of alcohol creates a sufficient exigency for a warrantless blood draw.  These cases will certainly face fervent litigation throughout the state.  Repeat offenders notwithstanding, for first and second OVI suspects, an officer will typically need to obtain a warrant or consent prior to conducting a blood draw.

If you have been pulled over for an OVI / DUI, knowing your legal rights and options is an important step in potentially avoiding a conviction and other consequences like jail time and fines. If you are currently facing charges or have any questions regarding a case, consulting with an experienced and knowledgeable OVI / DUI attorney can make all the difference in ensuring that your rights are fought for and protected.

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