WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Rutherford Institute has filed an amicus curiae brief in the case of Missouri v. McNeely, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to prohibit law enforcement officers from forcibly extracting blood from individuals suspected of drunk driving without first obtaining a warrant. The Institute’s brief was filed on behalf of Tyler McNeely, who was forced to give a blood sample after being arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Although McNeely refused to submit to a blood test, the arresting officer ordered hospital personnel to extract his blood anyway and test it for alcohol levels. In appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, the State of Missouri is seeking to overturn the Missouri Supreme Court’s order to suppress the results of the blood-alcohol test. In weighing in on the case, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that the state’s interests in ensuring public safety and discouraging drunk driving could have been realized in a manner that secured the desired blood alcohol evidence while at the same time protecting McNeely’s constitutional rights in keeping with the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement and prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in McNeely today, January 9.
“While public safety is of great concern, especially when it comes to serious offenses such as driving under the influence of alcohol, Americans’ constitutional rights cannot be wholly discounted and conveniently discarded,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “This case has far-reaching implications that go beyond one man’s run-in with the police. If we are to allow government agents broad powers to invade our bodies without consent or court order, the bodily integrity of all persons in the United States will be in serious jeopardy.”
Tyler McNeely was driving on an early morning in October 2010 when he was stopped by a Missouri state highway patrolman. Based upon his behavior, the patrolman suspected that McNeely was intoxicated. The patrolman led McNeely through a series of field sobriety tests and based upon the results, arrested him for drunk driving. The patrolman asked McNeely to consent to a breathalyzer test, but he refused. The patrolman decided to take McNeely to a nearby hospital in order to secure a sample of his blood and test it for alcohol levels. Upon arriving at the hospital, McNeely was asked to consent to a blood test, but he refused. The patrolman then ordered a hospital lab technician to take a blood sample from McNeely. At no point did the officer attempt to obtain a warrant authorizing the extraction. Although the state attempted to introduce the results of McNeely’s blood test at his trial, the trial court granted a motion to suppress the evidence, ruling that the taking of McNeely’s blood violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. This decision was affirmed by the Missouri Supreme Court, which held that there were no special emergency circumstances that justified the warrantless search. The Missouri Supreme Court specifically rejected the claim that the natural dissipation of alcohol from the bloodstream constitutes such an emergency circumstance.
In its brief, Rutherford Institute attorneys stress that forcible bodily intrusions of the kind inflicted on McNeely are among the most serious abuses of government authority which the Fourth Amendment was meant to forbid, and that such intrusions should be allowed only in extremely urgent circumstances. Institute attorneys also note that enforcement of drunk driving laws does not suffer when warrants for blood extraction are required, many of which can be obtained within a relatively short time, often within 30 minutes of an arrest.