Why Missouri v. McNeely won’t have much impact in Maricopa County
A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision may not change Arizona DUI law, but it may bring the rest of the nation more in line with Arizona’s policies.
Phoenix AZ court’s Search Warrant Center is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for police to obtain a warrant via “eSearch”. According to Phoenix Police, an officer can now obtain a search warrant within minutes. So the fact that the body’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) levels naturally decrease over time should not compel police, to bypass a search warrant. This is because the BAC levels take hours to decline, and will not be reduced drastically within 10 minutes.
Recently, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that police must obtain a warrant before forcing someone suspected of drunk driving to take a blood test. The US Supreme Court’s decision was that the mere fact that the body reduces BAC levels over time, is in and of itself not an “exigent” circumstance, and that each case should be decided based on it’s own set of facts.
Generally, a warrantless search of a person (including invasive searches of the body like a blood test) is considered reasonable if it falls into a recognized exception to the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. In Arizona, the police are required to obtain a warrant in order to proceed with a blood test.
One such exception exists when the “exigencies of the situation” present such a compelling law enforcement need that it is objectively reasonable for an officer to bypass getting a warrant. The Supreme Court found no such exception here.
The case arose when a state trooper saw the defendant driving erratically. When the state trooper pulled him over, the defendant refused to take a Breathalyzer test, so the officer drove him to a nearby hospital and ordered him to take a blood test to measure his alcohol levels.
The officer did not seek a warrant to test the defendant’s blood and it turned out he had very high blood alcohol levels. When the defendant was put on trial, he moved to suppress the results of the blood test on the grounds that it had violated his Fourth Amendment rights.
The State of Missouri argued that the officer’s failure to obtain a warrant was due to exigent circumstances that demanded he depart from the usual rule requiring a warrant. According to the State, because alcohol in the bloodstream slowly and predictably reduces with time, the evidence of the defendant’s DUI would be lost or destroyed during the time it would have taken to get a warrant. Missouri’s guidelines apparently allowed police officers broad discretion about whether to order a blood test under such circumstances.
The Supreme Court disagreed with the State’s argument, stating that under most conditions, there is enough time to get a warrant to test blood by using email or cellphones to contact the magistrate. Justice Sotomayor wrote that whether an emergency made it necessary to forgo the warrant would have to be decided on a case-by-case basis with justification being offered in court later.
Around the same time that the Supreme Court heard this case, Phoenix police sped up the search warrant process by installing a program in all police patrol car computers called eSearch Warrant Application. This allows an officer to send a warrant from the car directly to a judge, who can approve or reject the document on a laptop from the bench. The application was first installed in seven police DUI vans last fall.
The expediency of the warrant process using this software application makes it more critical than ever that if you are pulled over for drunk driving, you call an experienced Phoenix DUI lawyer to handle your case. Contact the experienced Phoenix DUI attorneys of The Law Offices of James Novak at (480) 413-1499 to build a solid defense.
Prescription Drug DUI Charges, Phoenix DUI Lawyer Blog, January 28, 2013
Marijuana DUI: The Impact of Montgomery v. Harris in Arizona, Phoenix DUI Lawyer Blog, March 13, 2013