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Warrant Required for BAC Testing of Drivers who Withhold Consent

In 2013, the United States Supreme Court decided a case that affected the rights of people who are stopped by police for suspected driving under the influence. The decision clarifies that, with certain exceptions, police generally must obtain a warrant before taking a blood sample from a driver who refuses to undergo blood alcohol content (BAC) testing.

Case background

The case, Missouri v. McNeely, stemmed from an incident in which a highway patrolman stopped a driver named Tyler McNeely for speeding. When the officer approached the vehicle, he allegedly noticed the smell of alcohol and observed that McNeely’s eyes were bloodshot and that his speech was slurred.

However, the driver refused to provide a breath sample for testing and was transported by police to a hospital, where a blood sample was taken against his will. The blood test revealed that McNeely’s BAC was over the legal limit, and he was charged with DWI.

Constitutional issues

Traffic stops and BAC testing fall within the search and seizure protections of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment provides that people are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures by police. Generally, this means that officers must obtain a warrant before conducting a search or seizure. However, under certain emergency circumstances, warrantless searches and seizures are considered reasonable and thus are permitted.

Prior to the McNeely case, there was considerable controversy over the issue of warrantless blood draws in DWI cases involving drivers who refused to undergo BAC testing. Prosecutors and law enforcement agencies have frequently stood in favor of allowing warrantless blood testing, based on the argument that BAC testing is time sensitive and that the delays involved in obtaining a warrant could result in evidence being lost. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in McNeely that this factor is not sufficient to justify an exception to the warrant requirement set forth in the Fourth Amendment.

Refusing a BAC test in New Jersey

New Jersey, like many other states, has what is known as an “implied consent” law with regard to BAC testing. This law provides that all drivers licensed in the state are considered to have given their consent to Breathalyzer testing.

Even so, with certain exceptions, New Jersey police still must obtain a warrant before administering a BAC test if the driver has refused. However, the act of refusing a BAC test can carry steep consequences regardless of whether the driver is convicted of drunk driving.

If you or a loved one has been arrested on suspicion of DUI in New Jersey, or if you are facing penalties for refusing a BAC test, be sure to get help from an attorney experienced in DUI defense. A lawyer with in-depth knowledge of the New Jersey legal system can help you understand your rights and the legal options available to you, and will work hard on your behalf to pursue an optimal resolution to your case.

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