U.S. High Court to Hear Argument on a Forced Blood Draw for a DWI Case

US Supreme Court to Hear Oral Argument Today in Wisconsin vs McNeely

NJ DWI Arrest

Wisconsin vs McNeely, is important for New Jersey lawyers that defend those who are accused of driving while intoxicated (DWI).  At issue in this case is whether the police can compel a DWI suspect to give a blood sample without first obtaining a warrant.  Under existing law the police are only allowed to take a blood sample without a warrant when there are exigent circumstances.  Typically, when there has been a motor vehicle accident and medical treatment is necessary the police are allowed to obtain a blood sample without of first obtaining a warrant.

The case before the United States Supreme Court today is unique. The relevant facts of the McNeely case are as follows. Tyler G. McNeely was stopped by the Missouri State Highway Patrol for speeding.   During the stop the officer believed that Mr. McNeely was under the influence of alcohol.  In fact, Mr. McNeely told the officer he was on his way home from a bar and that he had been drinking.  Mr. McNeely was then asked to perform field sobriety test which the officer determined he failed.

Based on the above, Mr. McNeely was placed under arrest and put in the back of the patrol car and to be transported  to the county jail. During the car ride to the jail the officer asked the suspect whether he would voluntarily submit to a breath test. Mr. McNeely said he would not consent to the breath test and with that the officer immediately took him to the hospital to obtain a blood sample.  At the hospital blood was drawn from Mr. McNealy without his consent and without a warrant.  The blood sample revealed a blood alcohol level of 0.154 which is in excess of the states .08 limit.

United States Supreme Court Justices 2011Ultimately this case will turn on the court’s interpretation of the Fourth Amendment.  The Fourth Amendment protects the people against warrantless search or seizure by the police.  There are exceptions to this constitutionally guaranteed protection.  One such example is when there are exigent circumstances.  Currently, a warrant is not required for blood draw when there was suspicion of DWI and an accident where the suspect required medical treatment.  Traditionally, the medical treatment constituted exigent circumstances. The theory was that the police cannot reasonably obtain a breath sample at the police station when there was a medical emergency (i.e. the suspect needed medical treatment at a hospital).

In the case being considered by the United States Supreme Court, the defendant was not involved in a motor vehicle accident nor did the defendant require any medical treatment.  The defendant in this case simply stated to the police that he would refuse a breath test.  Notably, the defendant was not taken to the police station and formally given the opportunity to submit a breath sample. Additionally, the underlying case does not deal with or address any potential criminal liability for a refusal.

For those that want more detailed information about the facts and legal analysis the briefs submitted to the Supreme Court in this case are available online at the SCOTUS Blog. This website  includes the state’s briefs the defendant’s briefs as well as the eight amicus curiae briefs that were submitted.  We will keep you posted as to the outcome.

If you or someone you know is facing DWI or refusal charges in a New Jersey Municipal Court, contact the municipal court defense lawyers at DeMichele & DeMichele today. We are here to defend the charges against you. Contact us now for your confidential and free initial consultation. You can also reach us by telephone (856) 546-1350.