New Jersey DUI – Failure to Obtain Warrant for Blood Samples May Lead to Suppression of Blood Test Results and Dismissal of Drunk Driving/Driving Under the Influence Cases

New Jersey Criminal Lawyers Schwartz Posnock

Police officers who stop seemingly drunk drivers may need to obtain a warrant before having the driver’s blood tested to determine the presence of alcohol or controlled substances.

In Missouri v. McNeely, No. 11-1425, decided April 17, 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled that every case in which a blood sample is taken from a driver without his consent will be judged on its own facts. Thus, the officer can never know whether failure to get a warrant will jeopardize a drunk-driving case altogether.

New Jersey police officers must follow the Supreme Court ruling, and, in certain driving under the influence cases, they will need to obtain a warrant for blood samples or risk having critical evidence of intoxication suppressed in a New Jersey Municipal Court trial.

New Jersey criminal lawyers will be filing more motions to suppress blood samples taken by police officers without a warrant.

None of the Court’s four opinions — a majority, two separate opinions supporting the result, and one dissenting opinion — said that officers investigating drunk-driving cases must always get a warrant. But the majority did say that the Constitution does not allow police to get a blood sample without ever having to get a warrant. The Court instead endorsed a case-by-case approach, suggesting that obtaining a valid warrant would remove any doubt as to the legality of the blood test.

Since Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s vote was needed to obtain a majority for the requirement that each case be judged on its own facts, his separate opinion may have special importance for New Jersey municipalities, their police forces, and local municipal prosecutors, as they decide how to react to the new ruling.
Justice Kennedy suggested that local officials still retain the authority to work out “rules and guidelines that give important, practical instruction to arresting officers,” and that those kinds of rules might well allow blood testing without a warrant “in order to preserve the critical evidence” of blood alcohol content. As further cases develop, Kennedy wrote, the Court itself might find it worthwhile “to provide more guidance than it undertakes to give today.”

Justice Kennedy’s fifth vote supported this bare conclusion: “always dispensing with a warrant for a blood test when a driver is arrested for being under the influence of alcohol is inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment.” With these qualifications stated, Kennedy joined most of the Court opinion written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and supported in full by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Antonin Scalia.

The Sotomayor opinion stressed that getting a warrant should be the default protocol in drunk-driving cases where officers decide to have a blood test made. That opinion said that the mere fact that alcohol in the blood does dissipate over time is not enough, by itself, to do away totally with the requirement for a search warrant — the position that the state of Missouri took in this case. The lead opinion sought to make the point that the Court was simply applying standard Fourth Amendment doctrine, and that the Court’s precedents simply did not support a blanket rule that blood could be drawn by the government without ever having to seek a warrant from a judge first.

That opinion also stressed that state and local governments have adopted a number of new procedures that make it easier, and faster, to get blood-test warrants, and that those procedures will help to assure that blood alcohol evidence does not disappear before a test could be made. “Our ruling will not severely hamper law enforcement,” Justice Sotomayor wrote.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., in an opinion joined by Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr., and Stephen G. Breyer, argued for a more-or-less flat constitutional rule that an officer must seek a warrant before having a DUI blood test made, if there is time, but not otherwise. If there is not time, in the officer’s judgment, that opinion said, there is no warrant requirement. That is an exigency, the Chief Justice wrote, because of “the imminent destruction of evidence” that results from the way the blood absorbs alcohol. Those four would have sent the case back to Missouri’s state courts to apply the approach recited by the Chief Justice.

Thus, New Jersey Municipal Courts will evaluate the need for a warrant to test for blood alcohol on a case by case basis.

Our Criminal Law Avvo® Rating
Contact Us:

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)

Phone Number

Your Confidential Message

Social Media
Google+ LinkedIn Facebook Twitter
Blog Categories
NJ Criminal Law Archive