The United States Supreme Court is considering whether police must get a warrant before ordering a blood test on an unwilling DUI suspect. The case has potentially major ramifications in Washington state, where voters in November approved a marijuana legalization scheme which institutes a strict five nanograms per milliliter (5 ng/ml) blood level for THC, above which drivers are automatically considered impaired.
The justices on Wednesday heard arguments in a case involving a disputed blood test from Missouri, reports The Associated Press
. After stopping a speeding, erratically driving car, the driver — who had two previous drunken-driving convictions — refused to submit to a breath test to measure the alcohol in his body.
According to the AP, the justices appeared to struggle over whether the dissipation of alcohol levels in the blood over time is reason enough for police to call for a blood test without first getting a warrant for what amounts to a bodily fluids search.
The Missouri Supreme Court had sided with defendant Tyler McNeely, ruling that police need a warrant to take a suspect’s blood except when a delay could threaten a life or destroy evidence.
In that case, the court upheld an order throwing out the results of the blood test, since there was no warrant. The test showed McNeely’s blood-alcohol content was .154 percent, almost double the .08 percent legal limit.
Lawyers representing the Obama Administration and the State of Missouri argued that the state court decision should be thrown out, allowing police to bypass the time-consuming process of getting a search warrant.
“Here, police are facing the certain destruction of blood-alcohol evidence,” Justice Department lawyer Nicole Saharsky claimed.
But some of the justices said police should at least normally try to get a warrant. “Why shouldn’t the determination be made case to case?” asked Justice Antonin Scalia.
There was little dispute whether the arresting officer, Cpl. Mark Winder of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, had enough evidence to get a warrant for a blood test in the McNeely case; McNeely had failed several field sobriety tests, had slurred speech, and was unsteady on his feet.
The problem is that Cpl. Winder chose not to get a warrant for the blood test. Instead, he drove McNeely to a hospital, where a technician drew blood from the handcuffed suspect. The decision to go ahead without a warrant set into motion the Supreme Court case.
A decision in the case, Missouri v. McNeely, 11-1425, is expected this summer.