WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court will decide whether a police officer who stops a suspected drunken driver can force the motorist to take a breath test or have blood drawn at a hospital.
Judges across the nation are split over whether forcing someone to undergo a blood test constitutes an “unreasonable search” prohibited by the Fourth Amendment.
The decision, due early next year, will define the powers of the police and the rights of motorists who are suspected of driving while intoxicated.
The justices agreed Tuesday to hear an appeal from Missouri prosecutors who argued that because alcohol in the body quickly dissipates, police need to act quickly and require suspected drunken drivers to undergo either a breath test or a blood test.
In March, the Missouri Supreme Court threw out the blood evidence used against an alleged drunken driver and ruled that police must obtain a search warrant before forcing a suspect to undergo a blood test.
The case began when Tyler McNeely was stopped for speeding about 2 a.m. by a Missouri highway patrol officer. When he stepped out of his car, the motorist was unsteady on his feet and failed the roadside sobriety tests.
But when put in a patrol car, McNeely refused to provide a breath sample. In response, the officer drove him to a hospital where he ordered a lab technician to draw a blood sample from the suspect.
In court, McNeely said the incriminating test results should be thrown out because the forced blood draw violated his rights. A trial judge agreed, and the state high court affirmed the ruling.