Warrantless DUI Blood Tests Draws Concerns Over Individual’s 4th Amendment Rights

California, like most other states, has an “implied consent” rule for its licensed drivers.   That means that if you accept a California driver’s license, you agreed to adhere to the state’s traffic laws, such as following the speed limit and obeying traffic signals.  One of the rules is to never operate a vehicle while in excess of the legal limit of a controlled substance.  Within the scope of this rule is that if you are legally arrestedfor driving under the influence (DUI) of a controlled substance, you are deemed to give consent to testing.  (Vehicle Code section 23612).  Failure to complete a blood, breath test, or urine test will result in penalties, including jail time and automatic suspension of your driver’s license.
Once arrested, you have ten (10) days to request a California Department of Motor Vehicle (“DMV”) hearing to challenge your suspension. If you are successful at this hearing, you license will not be suspended by the DMV. However, if unsuccessful, your punishment can include:

    • A one-year driver’s license suspension for your first DUI offense;
    • A two-year license revocation for your second DUI offense within ten years; or
    • A three-year license revocation for your third DUI offense within ten years.

California DMV takes this action regardless of what happens during any court proceedings.
Most recently, a case in Missouri has taken implied consent laws all the way to the Supreme Court. The case involves Tyler McNeely who was suspected of driving while intoxicated in October 2010. He refused a breathalyzer test and then had blood drawn against his will while in jail. His blood alcohol content was 0.154, nearly twice the legal limit in Missouri.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on behalf of Tyler McNeely, argues that drawing blood is an unreasonable search as defined by the Fourth Amendment. The issue, simply stated, is whether the police have the right without a warrant to stick someone with a needle every time they suspect a person of drunk driving. The Missouri Supreme Court has sided with McNeely for now. They said the blood test violated the Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. The court said police need a warrant to take a suspect’s blood except when a delay could threaten a life or destroy potential evidence.
Arguments before the Supreme Court were heard on Wednesday, January 10, 2013. A decision is expected by this summer. The case is Missouri v. McNeely, 11-1425.