Cape County case gets attention on Supreme Court blog

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A blog dedicated to covering the U.S. Supreme Court has chosen a Cape Girardeau County case that could go before the court as one that asks a noteworthy question.

SCOTUSblog selected the case of Missouri v. McNeely as its petition of the day for Friday.

The case brings up the question of whether a law enforcement officer may obtain a nonconsensual and warrantless blood sample from a suspected drunken driver using an exception to the Fourth Amendment requirement that a warrant first be obtained from a judge. The U.S. Supreme Court provided an exception to the requirement in Schmerber v. California, a 1966 case in which a suspected drunken driver was involved in a crash and hospitalized. Law enforcement drew blood from the suspect while he was in the hospital, realizing any alcohol would be gone before troopers concluded their investigation of the accident and a search warrant could be acquired.

While on a routine patrol at 2 a.m. Oct. 3, 2010, Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper Mark Winder saw a speeding northbound Ford pickup on U.S. 61 in Cape Girardeau, Winder said in a probable-cause statement. Winder pursued the vehicle and saw it cross the centerline of the highway three times, he said in the statement.

The trooper stopped the vehicle and conducted four field sobriety tests on the driver, Tyler G. McNeely, who refused to submit to a breath test, the statement said. Winder transported McNeely to Saint Francis Medical Center, where technicians took a blood sample against McNeely's wishes, the statement said.

A Cape Girardeau County judge ruled the evidence should be suppressed because its acquisition was a violation of McNeely's Fourth Amendment rights.

"The liver is getting alcohol out of the blood with every minute that passes," said Morley Swingle, Cape Girardeau County prosecuting attorney. "The Fourth Amendment says you can't make unreasonable searches. It's not unreasonable to draw blood."

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled the seizure of McNeely's blood violated his civil rights.

The court's findings said Winder was influenced by an article written by a traffic safety resource prosecutor asserting officers no longer needed to obtain a warrant before requiring DWI suspects to submit to nonconsensual blood tests "because of recent changes in Missouri's implied consent law."

McNeely's attorney, Stephen Wilson, said the American Civil Liberties Union is assisting in McNeely's defense. Law enforcement was "routinely" drawing blood from suspects without consent, Wilson said.

"They were rampantly violating people's civil rights," Wilson said. "The issue has some significance, which we always believed it did."

jgamm@semissourian.com

388-3635

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