Missouri v. McNeely

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: April 17, 2013
  • Case #: 11-1425
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Sotomayor, J., delivered the Court’s Opinion with respect to Parts I, II–A, II–B, and IV, in which Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg, and Kagan, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts II–C and III, in which Scalia, Ginsburg, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Kennedy, J., filed an opinion concurring in part. Roberts, C. J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Breyer and Alito, JJ., joined. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion.
  • Full Text Opinion

In the context of alcohol-related driving investigations, the Fourth Amendment requires officers to obtain consent or a warrant before proceeding with a blood alcohol content test unless truly exigent circumstances exist.

Respondent was pulled over for speeding by a police officer that suspected him of being intoxicated. The officer requested a breath test to measure his blood alcohol content (BAC), but respondent refused. Despite the refusal, the officer arrested respondent and took him to a hospital for blood testing, without obtaining a warrant. Respondent moved to suppress the blood test at trial arguing it violated his Forth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches of his person.

The trial court agreed, finding the exigency exception was inapplicable for lack of a true emergency. The State Supreme Court affirmed, relying on the case Schmerber v California, 384 U.S. 757, which created a limited exception for the admissibility of blood alcohol tests during alcohol-related arrests. This exception is only available in an emergency when an officer reasonably believes the delay in obtaining a warrant will lead to the destruction of evidence. The court found the present case was a routine DWI investigation with no "special facts" indicating an emergency, therefore the Schmerber exception was inapplicable.

The Court refused to enact a per se rule allowing warrantless blood testing in alcohol-related driving investigations. They further stated, when officers are able to obtain a warrant without significantly undermining the efficiency of the search, the Fourth Amendment requires them to do so. Exigency in the context of blood alcohol tests must be determined on a case-by-case basis using the totality of the circumstances.

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