“Good evening, Officer The Impaler. May I call you Vlad?”
Police may soon have the authority to draw blood from you, even without your consent or a warrant, if they suspect you of driving while intoxicated. That was the argument, in its most basic form, put forth by the state of Missouri to the U.S. Supreme Court this week in Missouri v. McNeely, No. 11-1425.
The case involves a man pulled over for an alleged traffic offense, then arrested for suspected DWI when the officer noticed the “tell-tale signs” of drunkenness and the smell of booze. The man refused both breath and blood tests after reportedly flunking the field-sobriety test. The officer, who claimed in court that he read an article saying cops no longer needed warrants to draw blood (I did not make that up. Missouri v. McNeely, 358 S.W.3d 65, 68 (Mo. 2012) (“He testified that the article asserted officers no longer needed to obtain a warrant before requiring DWI suspects to submit to nonconsensual blood tests…”)), drove the man to a hospital and instructed a phlebotomist to draw blood. The blood test revealed a blood alcohol content of…….actually, we don’t need to know what it revealed, because Mr. McNeely moved the trial court to suppress the blood test results as a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, and the court did so.
Without the blood evidence, the prosecution had no case. Unlike Law and Order, where they start shaking down other witnesses until they can make a case again, the prosecutors here appealed the order to the Missouri Supreme Court, which also said no. The court cited the U.S. Supreme Court in Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757 (1966), which carved out a narrow exception in the case of a drunk-driving suspect who was injured in a car accident. Because of the time required to transport the guy to the hospital, along with the limited amount of time alcohol stayed in the body, the police in that case were justified in drawing blood without a warrant because (a) time was of the essence, and (b) the guy was already in a hospital bed.
Missouri prosecutors, with the federal government’s support, have now taken this to the high court. They are essentially asking the court to apply the holding of Schmerber to any DWI investigation. In other words, they claim that the fact that the human body metabolizes alcohol, by itself, should constitute exigent circumstances justifying a warrantless blood test. A blood test, by the way, that involves sticking a hypodermic needle into a vein in your arm and drawing a vial of precious bodily fluids.
I happen to personally think that people who drive while intoxicated need a severe ass beating. I have physically obstructed people I knew to be drunk from going anywhere near their vehicles, and I have hidden keys from people. I have never sucker-punched a drunk person to distract them from trying to get to their car, but I have certainly considered doing so (the person in question, even eight sheets to the wind, would have kicked my ass.)
That said, I find the precedent of allowing cops to collect blood without a warrant, regardless of the circumstances, very troubling. I already think that “no refusal” weekends (which are actually no different from any other weekend) are bumping up against constitutional limits.
At any rate, don’t drive drunk. If you do, I might work up the nerve to sucker-punch you.
Photo credit: by Curious Expeditions on Flickr.