The Supreme Court was asked this week to rule that police never need to obtain a search warrant before drawing blood from a motorist stopped for drunk driving. The court should reject that claim.
In 2010, Tyler G. McNeely was stopped by a Missouri highway patrolman for speeding. After McNeely refused to undergo a breath test, the patrolman drove him to a hospital and, over McNeely's objections, directed a phlebotomist to take a sample of McNeely's blood. The results indicated a blood alcohol level well above the legal limit, but a trial judge and the Missouri Supreme Court held that the evidence was inadmissible because it had been obtained without a warrant.
The state of Missouri, supported by the Obama administration, urged the court to rule that the drawing of blood without a warrant is always constitutional because evidence of alcohol in the blood dissipates as the minutes pass, which means there's no time to wait for a warrant.
Fortunately, both liberal and conservative justices seemed reluctant to grant police a general dispensation from the warrant requirement for a practice as physically intrusive as drawing blood. "So how can it be reasonable to forgo the 4th Amendment in a procedure as intrusive as a needle going into someone's body?" Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked during Wednesday's oral arguments.