The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling recently that reinforces the rights of people stopped by police on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. On April 17, 2013, the Court ruled that police officers should have obtained a warrant before having blood forcibly drawn from a man suspected of DUI after he refused to give his consent to BAC test.

This issue has been the topic of widespread debate throughout the country in recent years. Some law enforcement agencies have argued that warrants should not be required due to the time-sensitive nature of the blood tests, contending that the delays involved in obtaining a warrant may allow evidence to be lost in some cases, as alcohol dissipates from the bloodstream over time. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, however, ruling that this factor alone was not enough to justify a warrantless blood draw.

The case of Missouri v. McNeely began when a man named Tyler McNeely was stopped by police for speeding. According to court documents, police said the driver smelled of alcohol and exhibited “telltale signs of intoxication,” including slurred speech and bloodshot eyes. After he refused to take a breath test, officers took McNeely to a hospital to have his blood drawn, but McNeely refused that test as well. Hospital staff proceeded to take a blood sample against his will, which revealed that his blood alcohol content well above the legal limit. By that point, the New York Times reported, about 25 minutes had elapsed since police first pulled McNeely over.

Warrantless blood test violates Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, which means that police officers are usually required to obtain a warrant before conducting a search or seizure of a person’s body or property. However, there a number of situations in which warrantless searches are considered “reasonable,” and therefore constitutionally permissible. The purpose of the warrant requirement is to prevent law enforcement officials from wielding unlimited power over criminal suspects and other individuals.

In the McNeely case, the Supreme Court ruled that the warrantless extraction of the driver’s blood without his consent was unreasonable under the circumstances. Because there were no emergency circumstances sufficient to justify the warrantless, nonconsensual blood test, the Court ruled that the test constituted an illegal violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights.

Massachusetts DUI law

Massachusetts, like many other states, has what is known as an “implied consent law” that applies to drivers who are stopped for suspected DUI. The law provides that all Massachusetts drivers give their implied consent to undergo a blood or breath test if they are lawfully arrested on suspicion of drunk driving.

Drivers who refuse a BAC test in Massachusetts can face fines and license suspension ranging from six months to life, depending on the circumstances of the arrest and the existence of any prior DUI offenses. In addition, a person who refuses a BAC test in Massachusetts may still be convicted of DUI, making the potential consequences that much more severe.

If you or a family member is arrested on suspicion of DUI in Massachusetts, seek help from an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. A lawyer with a history of success defending against Massachusetts DUI charges will see to it that your rights are protected and will work tirelessly on your behalf to secure an optimal resolution to the charges.