You are driving home from drinks with friends when you are stopped by the police. After you fail field sobriety tests, the officer asks you to agree to a breath test to measure your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). You decline.
You are placed under arrest and taken to a nearby hospital. The officer asks you to agree to a blood test, telling you that in California, refusal to submit to a chemical blood or breath test can result in the automatic loss of your driver’s license for a minimum of one (1) year.
You again say no.
Can the officer order a lab technician to take your blood without your consent? Can the police literally strap you down and forcefully take a blood draw?
Not without a warrant, the United States Supreme Court held in Missouri v. McNeely, unless there are specific exigencies that make obtaining a warrant impractical.
Otherwise, taking the blood of someone suspected of a DUI, without a warrant, may constitute a violation of that person’s Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.
The warrant requirement is subject to exceptions, the court noted. One well-recognized exception is when the exigencies of the situation make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that a warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.
But just because motorists have a diminished expectation of privacy in their cars, the court said, that does not diminish their privacy interest in preventing a government agent from piercing their skin. In routine DUI cases, police may need to seek a warrant.
In the case before the court, the defendant had been stopped by a Missouri police officer for speeding and crossing the center line. The officer noticed several signs that the defendant was intoxicated, including bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and the smell of alcohol on his breath.
The defendant declined to take a breath test to measure his BAC. He was arrested and taken to a hospital for blood testing, which he also refused.