The United States Supreme Court has weighed in on non-consensual blood alcohol tests conducted by law enforcement personnel, rendering a decision that could have an impact on courts and law enforcement agencies in Idaho.
“We are still working on issues surrounding this court case,” Teresa Baker, spokesperson for the Idaho State Police (ISP) told IdahoReporter.com. “We work with prosecutors in all 44 of Idaho’s counties and we are working with them on this matter now.”
The high court’s ruling involves a case in Missouri. On an appeal, the court reviewed the case of Missouri v. McNeely. Tyler G. McNeely, who was pulled over for speeding on a Missouri highway, was observed by state police to have exhibited “the telltale signs of intoxication — bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and the smell of alcohol on his breath.” He failed a field sobriety test and was subsequently arrested.
McNeely refused to take both a breath test and a blood test, but approximately 25 minutes after his arrest the Missouri highway patrol preceded with a blood test against his wishes. His blood alcohol level showed to be 0.15 percent, almost twice the legal limit, which led to his conviction of driving under the influence charges.
McNeely took the state of Missouri to court over the matter, and the state Supreme Court determined that the police should have obtained a warrant in order to do what they did. “Warrantless intrusions of the body are not to be undertaken lightly,” the Missouri court noted.
Then, in April of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld and affirmed the state court’s decision by an 8-1 vote. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in an opinion supported by Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Anthony M. Kennedy, noted that several different factors need to be considered in deciding whether a warrant was needed. Justice Clarence Thomas rendered the dissenting opinion.
“Whether a warrantless blood test of a drunk-driving suspect is reasonable must be determined case by case based on the totality of the circumstances,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. While stating that timeliness is often a consideration in the obtaining of reliable evidence, she also noted that technological developments have made it easier for law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants in such circumstances.
According to a recent report in the Lewiston Tribune, the high court’s decision is already garnering a reaction from Lewiston city police and Nez Perce County prosecutors.
Personnel from the two agencies are meeting regularly to develop a new search warrant process for cases where drunk driving is suspected. “I find that it does limit our ability to our job,” Lt. Michael Pedersen told the Tribune. “I don’t see it as a major hurdle. It’s just something we need to work out.”
However, Baker notes that the ruling could pose significant challenges to ISP.
“If we had to get a warrant in each case of drunk driving where we want to test for blood alcohol levels, that could be difficult,” she told IdahoReporter.com. “Law enforcement agencies like ours work 24 hours a day, but judiciaries do not.”
She said that ISP is, for the time being, relying on legal guidance from county prosecutors, as ISP considers the possibility of formulating new policies.