Courts Change Procedures for Issuing Warrants After Supreme Court Limits Warrantless Blood Testing of DWI Suspects

By GrahamColm (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsA decision issued by the U.S. Supreme Court last year limits the ability of police to take a blood sample from a DWI suspect without consent or a warrant. Missouri v. McNeely, 133 S.Ct. 1552 (2013). The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures, and generally requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant before searching private property. Police can claim “exigent circumstances” to justify a warrantless search, meaning that in a specific emergency situation, they cannot take the time to obtain a warrant. The McNeely case addressed claims by police that the human body’s process of metabolizing alcohol was an exigent circumstance that justified taking a blood sample without a warrant. In response to the decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court has modified its procedures for search warrant requests to ensure that judges are available to issue warrants.

The defendant in McNeely was stopped by a highway patrolman for speeding. The officer claims that defendant did not perform well in a field sobriety test, and he refused a breath test. En route to the police station, the defendant refused a breath test again, so the officer diverted to a hospital and directed a hospital technician to take a blood sample. The defendant did not consent to having blood drawn, and the officer did not obtain a warrant. Lab testing showed blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.154 percent, almost twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

The state charged the defendant with driving while intoxicated, but the court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress. It held that the warrantless blood test violated his Fourth Amendment rights. When the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed the decision, the U.S. Supreme Court took the case in order to resolve a conflict with its own prior decision in Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757 (1966). That case held that an officer might reasonably conclude that the breakdown of alcohol in the bloodstream constituted “exigent circumstances,” id. at 770-71, but limited its holding to the specific circumstances of the case. In McNeely, the court rejected establishing a “per se rule” that alcohol metabolism justifies a warrantless blood test. 133 S.Ct. at 1561.

The practical impact of McNeely on police, prosecutors, and courts is the requirement of a warrant almost every time an officer deems a blood test necessary. Chief Justice Rabner of the New Jersey Supreme Court therefore issued an order (PDF file) on October 8, 2013 modifying the Rules Governing the Court of the State of New Jersey to facilitate requests for “search warrants for nonconsensual blood testing” in DWI cases. Specifically, the order states that the criminal and municipal court sections of the rules are “supplemented and relaxed” so that designated judges in the municipal courts can issue search warrants. Police may request warrants and offer sworn testimony in person, by telephone, or by radio.

If you have been arrested or charged with DWI, you need the help of a qualified and skilled DWI attorney, who can help you understand your rights, prepare the best possible defense for you, and minimize the impact of the case on your life and your future. At Levow & Associates, we have dedicated our law practice exclusively to DWI defense. We are available to help you 24/7. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you, please contact us online or at (877) 593-1717.

More Blog Posts:

Defending a New Jersey DWI Refusal Charge after Schmidt: What’s Left? New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, June 8, 2011

Insufficient New Jersey DWI Breath Samples: “I blew into the machine, but I was charged with Refusal”, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, June 1, 2011

Implied Consent Warnings in New Jersey DWI Cases: “But, I don’t speak English!”, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, April 11, 2011

Photo credit: By GrahamColm (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.