U.S. Supreme Court To Decide if DWI Laws Are Unconstitutional

Posted On September 27, 2012 by Daniel Koewler

This just in: the United States Supreme Court accepted review of a crucial case involving DWIs - the case of Missouri v. McNeely. The McNeely case will settle, once and for all, whether the police can compel a driver to submit to a blood, breath, or urine test whenever the officer believes the driver is impaired. We discussed this case when it was first issued, and because any blood, breath or urine test is a "search| under the 4th Amendment to our Constitution, this case will have a broad impact nationwide.

We argued this issue before our own Minnesota Supreme Court back in 2008. There, in a 4-3 decision, the Court ruled that the |exigent circumstances| doctrine (specifically, a subset of that doctrine called |single-factor exigency|) permits the police to perform warrantless searches of DWI drivers. That holding may not last much longer, as the U.S. Supreme Court is now set to decide the same issue.

Right now, Minnesota law appears to allow law enforcement to force drivers to submit to a test, even without a warrant. McNeely could turn that situation on its head, and require police to spend the 30 minutes necessary to obtain a telephonic warrant before compelling a driver to submit to a blood test - and that's a very good thing. There is little harm and substantial gain to be had by imposing a neutral magistrate between a zealous police officer and a needle-shy driver, who may or may not even be drunk. More importantly, such a ruling would breathe new life into the 4th Amendment, in an era where the courts have consistently watered down our privacy rights and placed more and more power in the hands of the police.