US Supreme Court Case Affects Warrant Application Procedures

A recent article explores the ramifications of the warrant requirement articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in the July 2013 case of Missouri v. McNeely. Specifically, the Court ruled that either a warrant or an exigent circumstance is needed before law officers may take a nonconsensual blood draw from an individual suspected of driving while intoxicated. The Court further clarified that the bodily process of metabolizing alcohol from the bloodstream is not an exigent circumstance in itself, although it might be listed as one of several factors in support of a warrant application.

In the case, police had taken a warrantless blood draw from a driver who had collided into two pedestrians in a crosswalk. The test revealed illegal levels of alcohol and marijuana in the driver’s bloodstream. Even though neither pedestrian suffered life threatening injuries, the driver still faced serious felony charges, including reckless endangerment and vehicular assault.

Prosecutors interpreted the Supreme Court’s ruling as possibly making the results of the warrantless blood draw inadmissible. They decided not to use the test results as evidence, instead offering the driver a plea deal. Pursuant to the terms, the driver pleaded guilty to lesser charges, including driving under the influence and misdemeanor reckless driving.

In the wake of the opinion, New Jersey relaxed its procedures for how police officers can apply for a search warrant. Previously, law enforcement officials in New Jersey may have needed exigent circumstances to receive a warrant by electronic means, such as telephone, radio or electronic communication. As revised by an October 2013 New Jersey Supreme Court order, the process for judges issuing telephonic warrants has been relaxed.

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