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U.S. Supreme Court Could Ban Forced Blood Draws

Our legal system is made up of flexible rules. For nearly every rule, there are exceptions. Eventually, the exceptions swallow up the rule and the rule changes. Our law is constantly on a path of clarifications and hopefully, improvement. It is the beauty and curse of our legal system that the moment we think we know the law, it changes.

We just discussed the "rule" regarding forced blood draws for DUI suspects in Illinois. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled first that "reasonable" force was allowable to withdraw blood. More recently, they held that five people holding down a suspect while blood is drawn is a bit beyond reasonable. What's the happy middle ground? That remains to be seen, though a case before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) could answer the question before Illinois gets a chance.

The year 1966 was the last time SCOTUS addressed the issue. The ruling was that officers are privileged to draw blood by force because blood-alcohol content evidence is dissipates quickly and the time-sensitive nature of the evidence leaves no time for warrants and other Fourth Amendment required procedures.

At some point between now and June of next year, forced blood draws will come before SCOTUS again. The case is Missouri v. McNeely. The alleged drunk driver, Tyler McNeely, was pulled over for a routine traffic stop. The officer noticed obvious indicators of intoxication, such as bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and the smell of booze on his breath. However, McNeely refused both the blood and breath tests. He was taken to a hospital and had blood taken without his consent. His BAC was above the legal limit.

Missouri's Supreme Court ruled that the blood draw was unconstitutional and tossed the conviction. The court distinguished the facts of the 1966 Supreme Court case, as in that case, the urgency was heightened by the time it took to investigate the accident and transport the defendant to the hospital. There was no time for warrants. In the present case, the suspect was taken directly to the hospital after the traffic stop. There was no additional urgency beyond the dissipating nature of blood alcohol evidence.

Like Missouri, courts in Utah, Iowa, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have agreed with this distinction and require additional urgency beyond simple drunk driving. Wisconsin, Oregon, and Minnesota have taken the opposite view and the law in those states is that alcohol dissipation alone is sufficient.

Other state court rulings have little to no impact in Illinois, other than possibly providing a party with a persuasive argument. On the other hand, when the Supreme Court of the United States rules, everyone listens, as that ruling applies throughout the country.

If SCOTUS agrees that additional factors, such as the time delay of an accident investigation, are necessary to justify forced blood draws, that will become the law here in Illinois. If they side with Wisconsin, Oregon, and Minnesota, any drunk driver can have blood taken from him by force. Hopefully, they will address the unresolved issue of reasonable force as well.

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