New Jersey Supreme Court Retroactively Applies 2013 U.S. Supreme Court Ruling on Forced Blood Draws in DWI Cases

The New Jersey Supreme Court (NJSC) recently reversed a decision by the Superior Court, Appellate Division regarding a warrantless blood draw in a DWI case. The decision, State v. Adkins, applied a 2013 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court (USSC), Missouri v. McNeely. Many courts had allowed police to take blood samples from DWI suspects without a warrant under the “exigent circumstances” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s search-warrant requirement, based on the fact that alcohol breaks down in the bloodstream over time. The USSC ruled in McNeely that “the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant.” In Adkins, the NJSC ruled that McNeely “must apply retroactively to cases that were in the pipeline” at the time of the USSC’s ruling. It reversed the Appellate Division’s ruling but remanded the case for further proceedings regarding whether other “exigencies” might have been present.

The defendant in Adkins was involved in a single-car accident in December 2010 and was arrested on suspicion of DWI. The court noted that police, for unknown reasons, did not collect a breath sample from the defendant, even though an Alcotest device was available. Instead, they took the defendant to a hospital for a blood draw. Police claimed that the defendant did not object to the blood draw, but the state did not contend that he consented to the procedure.

The USSC ruled in 1966’s Schmerber v. California that forced, warrantless blood draws in DWI cases do not violate the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, and they may be justified by the “exigent circumstances” exception to the Fourth Amendment. The court did not, however, address specific “exigencies.” McNeely narrowed Schmerber’s scope by excluding alcohol metabolism as an exigent circumstance.

While the defendant’s case was pending, the USSC issued McNeely in April 2013. Four days later, the defendant moved to suppress the blood test results. The “exclusionary rule” requires courts to suppress evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The trial court granted the motion, and the state appealed, citing Schmerber. The Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s order in a December 2013 ruling. It acknowledged McNeely but held that the search was authorized by Schmerber at the time it occurred in 2010, and that any new interpretation of the exclusionary rule by the NJSC would not be retroactively applicable.

The NJSC reversed the Appellate Division, citing a 2012 decision that retroactively applied a USSC decision, State v. Wessells. The court held that McNeely must apply retroactively to DWI cases that were already pending in municipal, superior, or appellate courts at the time of its issuance in April 2013. It remanded Adkins to the trial court to allow the prosecution a chance “to present to the court their basis for believing that exigency was present” at the time of the arrest.

A DWI charge under New Jersey law can significantly affect your life. You should seek the assistance of a knowledgeable and experienced DWI lawyer, who can help you understand your rights, guide you through the legal process, and mount a vigorous defense against the state’s allegations. We have dedicated 100% of our law practice at Levow DWI Law, P.C. to representing defendants charged with DWI in New Jersey, and we are available 24/7 for you. Contact us online or at (877) 975-3399 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Driver Charged with DWI-Related Offense Despite Breath Test Results Below 0.08%, Based on “Totality of the Circumstances”, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, April 2, 2015

Implied Consent Statutes Do Not Allow Warrantless Blood Tests, According to Several State Supreme Courts, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, January 9, 2015

Courts Change Procedures for Issuing Warrants After Supreme Court Limits Warrantless Blood Testing of DWI Suspects, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, July 2, 2014


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