Supreme Court of United States decision in Missouri v. Tyler G. McNeely

On April 17, 2013, The Supreme Court of the United States decided the matter of Missouri v. Tyler G. McNeely, (no. 11-1425) holding that a blood test without a warrant is unconstitutional and the human body’s metabolization of alcohol does not, without more, present exigent circumstances which would allow for a n exception to the Fourth Amendment Guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures. Justice Sotomayor further stated that a case by case analysis is necessary to determine exigency.

The importance of this decision on Pennsylvania Driving After Imbibing (DUI) matters is minimal. Pennsylvania has adopted an “implied consent” for blood alcohol testing when the police believe that a driver is likely intoxicated. According to section 1547 of the Pennsylvania Vehicle code, “Any person who drives, operates, or is in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle in this Commonwealth shall be deemed to have given consent to one or more chemical tests of breath, blood or urine for the purpose of determining the alcohol content of blood or the presence of a controlled substance….” This allows police to ask any driver to submit to a blood alcohol test when the police believe there are reasonable grounds to believe a driver may have been operating a vehicle while under the influence or without a court ordered ignition interlock device. When a driver refuses this request, the penalties include a license suspension for up to eighteen months and an enhancement of criminal penalties for a criminal conviction of Driving After Imbibing (DUI) including increased period of incarceration, increased fine, increased license suspension and increased grading of the offense.

The McNeely case decided by the Supreme Court references conduct in other States where the police were forcing driver’s to take blood tests against their wishes and alleging that the search was necessary, without a warrant, for the accuracy of the results. The Supreme Court’s decision protected our rights against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government and requires that something more than the mere possibility that alcohol results will dissipate is required before such warrantless searches are allowed.