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U.S. Supreme Court turns thumbs down on blanket rule allowing warrantless DWI blood tests

I hated English class when I was in school.  Diagraming sentences and picking apart the meaning of books seemed like an exercise in missing the forest for the trees.  So I became a lawyer, where I pick apart people’s testimony and courts’ opinions. Go figure!

I’m reminded of this by this morning’s U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Missouri v. McNeilly, which rejected the argument that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the blood stream always creates the type of exigent circumstances that justify a warrantless blood test of a suspected drunk driver.  It’s another one of those Supreme Court decisions with multiple concurrences that requires you to diagram which justices agreed with which parts to fully understand the opinion.

To save you the trouble, a majority of the justices agreed in Missouri v. McNeilly that the dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream could create exigent circumstances; it just didn’t in this case.  They also dropped a broad hint on how to show exigency in future DWI cases:

“[T]he fact that a particular drunk-driving stop is ‘routine’ in the sense that it does not involve ‘special facts,’ such as the need for the police to attend to a car accident, does not mean a warrant is required. Other factors present in an ordinary traffic stop, such as the procedures in place for obtaining a warrant or the availability of a magistrate judge, may affect whether the police can obtain a warrant in an expeditious way and therefore may establish an exigency that permits a warrantless search. The relevant factors in determining whether a warrantless search is reasonable, including the practical problems of obtaining a warrant within a timeframe that still preserves the opportunity to obtain reliable evidence, will no doubt vary depending upon the circumstances in the case.”