WASHINGTON, DC — In a case that could have nationwide implications in the enforcement of marijuana impaired “drugged driving” laws, the United States Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that states can not routinely compel drivers to submit to a blood test in drunk driving cases without consent and without a warrant.
The ruling comes in the case of Missouri v. McNeely, originated by an arrest in October 2010 in the rural county of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
Tyler McNeely was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol after police forced him to to undergo a blood test without a warrant.
McNeely, who had two previous drunken-driving convictions, refused to submit to a breath test to measure the alcohol level in his body, and failed several field sobriety tests.
The arresting officer, Cpl. Mark Winder of the Missouri Highway Patrol, did not attempt to get a warrant but drove McNeely to a hospital, where a technician drew his blood.
The blood test found McNeely had nearly twice the legal limit of alcohol in is blood.
In their 8-1 ruling Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court said that there was no sufficient reason to dispense with the requirement that police get a judge’s approval before drawing a blood sample.
Previously, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the blood test violated the state’s Constitution. Police need a warrant to take a suspect’s blood except when a delay could threaten a life or destroy potential evidence, the Missouri court added.
“I don’t think that the delays in getting a warrant justify the police sticking a needle in your arm because there’s no evidence that those delays interfere with the state’s ability to enforce drunk driving laws,” said ACLU Legal Director Steven R. Shapiro.
“The interest that is being preserved is a very important principle, that before the government conducts a search, and especially a search as intrusive that involves putting a needle in your arm over your objection when you’re restrained, that decision ought not to be made by the police themselves absent a true emergency, but ought to be reviewed and approved by a judge. That’s the principle under which our constitutional law operates,” Shapiro said.
Nationwide, 26 states already ban the drawing of blood without a warrant.
Justice Clarence Thomas was the only judge that ruled in favor of warrantless blood testing.
This ruling will set immediate precedent throughout the nation, as recently enacted “drugged driving” laws rely on blood tests to determine the amount of cannabis in a driver’s blood.
Many of these DUID laws consider a driver guilty of driving under the influence based solely on the amount of THC in their blood, regardless of whether the driver is actually impaired or “high” from marijuana.