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Joseph A. Lombardo

Authorities use the term ‘exigent circumstances’ to describe a situation necessitates a warrantless search and/or seizure of a suspect’s property, including their bodily fluids. This usually applies in emergencies when police know someone is in imminent danger of harm. Cops bust down doors without search warrants because waiting to do so could put someone’s life in jeopardy. In the wake of an important U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the definition of exigent circumstances as it applies to DUI stops may have changed forever.

Landmark Missouri v. McNeely Court Decision

In an 8-1 ruling, the highest court in the United States rejected the federal government’s argument that the potential for dissipation of alcohol in a suspect’s blood always creates ground for exigent circumstances under the law. This means police must establish other grounds before compelling a suspect believed to be operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol to provide a blood sample without a warrant. In essence, the fact that alcohol could leave a suspect’s blood stream isn’t sufficient to take their blood without a warrant to do so.

Violation of Constitutional Rights

Failing to obtain a warrant for a fluid sample, and taking bodily fluid without one, could violate a suspect’s Fourth Amendment Rights under the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. Would an experienced DUI attorney be able to get evidence collected in violation of such a right tossed out of court? Most likely. That’s why it’s important to hire a legal team with thousands of DUI-related cases under their belts – like ours.

How the Ruling Affects State Laws

What we may see is a move to eliminate blood samples or new regulations significantly curtailing the discretion of officers at DUI stops to demand them from suspects. Some of these initiatives have already happened in California, where the California Highway Patrol announced it would suspend all warrantless blood draws for misdemeanor DUI cases and would seek warrants for felony offenses unless other extenuating circumstances presented themselves at the scene.

Warrants were an important component of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling. Justices articulated that improvements in communication between courts and law enforcement have enabled faster approval for searches, including DUI-related blood draws. The court believed, according to documents, that police can obtain warrants without compromising important blood evidence. Authorities must, stated the court, address exigency on a case-by-case basis, because all traffic stops are different.

Contact Our DUI Attorneys in New Jersey

It remains to be seen how authorities in New Jersey will implement the latest ruling. Refusing to submit to a breathalyzer or provide urine and blood is still an option for NJ drivers barring a valid warrant, but there’s always the prospect of license suspension for doing so.

If you’re facing a charge for driving under the influence, you need aggressive legal representation to protect your rights and achieve the best outcome possible. Call our law firm today to speak with one of our NJ DUI lawyers about what happened, and what we can do to help you.

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