Missouri v. Tyler McNeely, 569 U.S. _____ (2013)

Missouri police stopped Tyler McNeely's truck for speeding and crossing the center line. Thereafter, McNeeely declined to take a breath test to measure his blood alcohol concentration ("BAC"). McNeeely was then arrested and taken to a hospital. McNeely refused to consent to have his blood drawn at the hospital, but the officer directed a lab technician to take a sample of McNeely's blood, without any attempt to secure a search warrant. McNeely's BAC tested above the legal limit; and, in turn, McNeely was charged with driving while intoxicated.


The trial court held that the exigency exception to the warrant requirement did not apply because, apart from the fact that McNeely's blood alcohol was dissipating, no circumstances suggested that the officer faced an emergency; consequently, the test results were suppressed. The Missouri Supreme Court later affirmed.


Declining to announce a per se rule, the U.S. Supreme Court looked to the "totality of circumstances." The Court found that blood testing is different in critical respects from other destruction-of-evidence cases because BAC evidence naturally dissipates in a gradual and relatively predictable manner. Since an officer must typically obtain a trained medical professional's assistance before having a blood test conducted, some delay between the time of the arrest and time of the test is inevitable regardless of whether a warrant is obtained. As such, the Court stated that circumstances may make obtaining a warrant impractical such that dissipation will support an exigency, but such analysis should nonetheless be done on a fact specific, case by case basis. Therefore, the Court held that, when officers in drunk-driving investigations can reasonably obtain a warrant before having a blood sample drawn without significantly undermining the efficacy of the search, the Fourth Amendment mandates that they do so. In light of the specific facts of McNeely's case, the Court affirmed the trial court's suppression of the test result.


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