Criminal Defense in Orange County

COM: Missouri v. McNeely

Although I usually write articles about cases I have handled personally, this case of the month deals with the United States Supreme Court case of Missouri v. McNeely. The facts of the McNeely case are straightforward. Mr. McNeely was stopped for driving under the influence of alcohol. During the course of the investigation, Mr. McNeely repeatedly refused to submit to a chemical test of any kind. At the police station, blood was drawn from Mr. McNeely without a warrant.

The case which was relied upon to circumvent the warrant requirement was Schmerber v. California, a 1966 United States Supreme Court case. In this case, the court authorized the drawing of blood without a warrant because the officer was confronted with an emergency situation (an accident) and the delay necessary to obtain a warrant may have necessitated a destruction of evidence, namely blood.

Since the human body eliminates alcohol at a relatively constant level, any delay in obtaining blood from a defendant would necessarily result in its destruction.

In a surprise ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that in the McNeely case, the mere possible destruction of evidence (there was no accident as in the Schmerber case) was insufficient, in and of itself, to justify a warrantless draw of the defendant's blood. The Supreme Court asserted the taking of blood from a person is one of the most intrusive searches that can be done. Hence, protection from unlawful searches and seizures requires a warrant.

This case has all the indicia of being a blockbuster in the area of DUI defense. Undoubtedly, there will be significant further interpretations. The Law Office of Barney B. Gibbs will continue to monitor this and other cases in order to best protect our clients' rights.