WASHINGTON – Police officers generally must try to get a warrant before forcing uncooperative drunken driving suspects to submit to a blood test, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
The slow dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not justify an exception to the general constitutional requirements of a warrant, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the majority.
She said such emergencies must be determined by the circumstances in a case-by-case examination and rejected the notion that officers face a “now or never” situation in obtaining blood-alcohol tests. “Where police officers can reasonably obtain a warrant before a blood sample can be drawn without significantly undermining the efficacy of the search, the Fourth Amendment mandates that they do so,” Sotomayor wrote.
She was joined in her main holding by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.
Justice Clarence Thomas was the lone justice agreeing with Missouri and the U.S. government that the metabolization of alcohol in the blood created the kind of emergency that does not require a warrant.
The case came from rural Cape Girardeau County, where in the early morning hours of Oct. 3, 2010, Missouri State Highway Patrol Cpl. Mark Winder pulled over Tyler McNeely. McNeely, whose speech was slurred and who had alcohol on his breath, failed a field sobriety test and twice refused to take a breath test.
Winder arrested him and, on the way to jail, stopped by a hospital. After McNeely refused to submit to a blood test, Winder ordered a phlebotomist to draw blood anyway. Winder did not attempt to obtain a warrant because he said he thought Missouri law did not require it because of recent changes.
The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously disagreed and said the blood test could not be used. Courts nationwide were divided on the issue.