Missouri v. McNeely

Decision Date17 April 2013
Docket NumberNo. 11–1425.,11–1425.
Citation185 L.Ed.2d 696,569 U.S. 141,133 S.Ct. 1552
Parties MISSOURI, Petitioner v. Tyler G. McNEELY.
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

John N. Koester, Jr., argued, for Petitioner.

Nichole A. Saharsky, for the United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, supporting the Petitioner.

Steven R. Shapiro, for Respondent.

John N. Koester, Jr., Counsel of Record, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Office of Prosecuting Attorney, Cape Girardeau County, MO, Angel M. Woodruff, Acting Prosecuting Attorney, Jackson, MO, for Petitioner.

Stephen Douglas Bonney, Kansas City, MO, Anthony E. Rothert, Grant R. Doty, St. Louis, MO, Steven R. Shapiro, Counsel of Record, Ezekiel R. Edwards, Brandon J. Buskey, New York, NY, Stephen C. Wilson, Wilson & Mann, L.C., Cape Girardeau, MO, for Respondent.

Justice SOTOMAYOR announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II–A, II–B, and IV, and an opinion with respect to Parts II–C and III, in which Justice SCALIA, Justice GINSBURG, and Justice KAGAN join.

In Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 86 S.Ct. 1826, 16 L.Ed.2d 908 (1966), this Court upheld a warrantless blood test of an individual arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol because the officer "might reasonably have believed that he was confronted with an emergency, in which the delay necessary to obtain a warrant, under the circumstances, threatened the destruction of evidence." Id., at 770, 86 S.Ct. 1826 (internal quotation marks omitted). The question presented here is whether the natural metabolization of alcohol in the bloodstream presents a per se exigency that justifies an exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement for nonconsensual blood testing in all drunk-driving cases. We conclude that it does not, and we hold, consistent with general Fourth Amendment principles, that exigency in this context must be determined case by case based on the totality of the circumstances.


While on highway patrol at approximately 2:08 a.m., a Missouri police officer stopped Tyler McNeely's truck after observing it exceed the posted speed limit and repeatedly cross the centerline. The officer noticed several signs that McNeely was intoxicated, including McNeely's bloodshot eyes, his slurred speech, and the smell of alcohol on his breath. McNeely acknowledged to the officer that he had consumed "a couple of beers" at a bar, App. 20, and he appeared unsteady on his feet when he exited the truck. After McNeely performed poorly on a battery of field-sobriety tests and declined to use a portable breath-test device to measure his blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the officer placed him under arrest.

The officer began to transport McNeely to the station house. But when McNeely indicated that he would again refuse to provide a breath sample, the officer changed course and took McNeely to a nearby hospital for blood testing. The officer did not attempt to secure a warrant. Upon arrival at the hospital, the officer asked McNeely whether he would consent to a blood test. Reading from a standard implied consent form, the officer explained to McNeely that under state law refusal to submit voluntarily to the test would lead to the immediate revocation of his driver's license for one year and could be used against him in a future prosecution. See Mo. Ann. Stat. §§ 577.020.1, 577.041 (West 2011). McNeely nonetheless refused. The officer then directed a hospital lab technician to take a blood sample, and the sample was secured at approximately 2:35 a.m. Subsequent laboratory testing measured McNeely's BAC at 0.154 percent, which was well above the legal limit of 0.08 percent. See § 577.012.1.

McNeely was charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI), in violation of § 577.010.1 He moved to suppress the results of the blood test, arguing in relevant part that, under the circumstances, taking his blood for chemical testing without first obtaining a search warrant violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment. The trial court agreed. It concluded that the exigency exception to the warrant requirement did not apply because, apart from the fact that "[a]s in all cases involving intoxication, [McNeely's] blood alcohol was being metabolized by his liver," there were no circumstances suggesting the officer faced an emergency in which he could not practicably obtain a warrant. No. 10CG–CR01849–01 (Cir. Ct. Cape Girardeau Cty., Mo., Div. II, Mar. 3, 2011), App. to Pet. for Cert. 43a. On appeal, the Missouri Court of Appeals stated an intention to reverse but transferred the case directly to the Missouri Supreme Court. No. ED 96402 (June 21, 2011), id ., at 24a.

The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed. 358 S.W.3d 65 (2012) (per curiam ). Recognizing that this Court's decision in Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 86 S.Ct. 1826, 16 L.Ed.2d 908,"provide[d] the backdrop" to its analysis, the Missouri Supreme Court held that "Schmerber directs lower courts to engage in a totality of the circumstances analysis when determining whether exigency permits a nonconsensual, warrantless blood draw." 358 S.W.3d, at 69, 74. The court further concluded that Schmerber "requires more than the mere dissipation of blood-alcohol evidence to support a warrantless blood draw in an alcohol-related case." 358 S.W.3d, at 70. According to the court, exigency depends heavily on the existence of additional " ‘special facts,’ " such as whether an officer was delayed by the need to investigate an accident and transport an injured suspect to the hospital, as had been the case in Schmerber . 358 S.W.3d, at 70, 74. Finding that this was "unquestionably a routine DWI case" in which no factors other than the natural dissipation of blood-alcohol suggested that there was an emergency, the court held that the nonconsensual warrantless blood draw violated McNeely's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches of his person. Id., at 74–75.

We granted certiorari to resolve a split of authority on the question whether the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream establishes a per se exigency that suffices on its own to justify an exception to the warrant requirement for nonconsensual blood testing in drunk-driving investigations.2 See 567 U.S. ––––, 133 S.Ct. 98, 183 L.Ed.2d 737 (2012). We now affirm.


The Fourth Amendment provides in relevant part that "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause." Our cases have held that a warrantless search of the person is reasonable only if it falls within a recognized exception. See, e.g., United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218, 224, 94 S.Ct. 467, 38 L.Ed.2d 427 (1973). That principle applies to the type of search at issue in this case, which involved a compelled physical intrusion beneath McNeely's skin and into his veins to obtain a sample of his blood for use as evidence in a criminal investigation. Such an invasion of bodily integrity implicates an individual's "most personal and deep-rooted expectations of privacy." Winston v. Lee, 470 U.S. 753, 760, 105 S.Ct. 1611, 84 L.Ed.2d 662 (1985) ; see also Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives' Assn., 489 U.S. 602, 616, 109 S.Ct. 1402, 103 L.Ed.2d 639 (1989).

We first considered the Fourth Amendment restrictions on such searches in Schmerber, where, as in this case, a blood sample was drawn from a defendant suspected of driving while under the influence of alcohol. 384 U.S., at 758, 86 S.Ct. 1826. Noting that "[s]earch warrants are ordinarily required for searches of dwellings," we reasoned that "absent an emergency, no less could be required where intrusions into the human body are concerned," even when the search was conducted following a lawful arrest. Id., at 770, 86 S.Ct. 1826. We explained that the importance of requiring authorization by a " ‘neutral and detached magistrate’ " before allowing a law enforcement officer to "invade another's body in search of evidence of guilt is indisputable and great." Ibid. (quoting Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 13–14, 68 S.Ct. 367, 92 L.Ed. 436 (1948) ).

As noted, the warrant requirement is subject to exceptions. "One well-recognized exception," and the one at issue in this case, "applies when the exigencies of the situation make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that a warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment." Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. ––––, ––––, 131 S.Ct. 1849, 1856, 179 L.Ed.2d 865 (2011) (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted). A variety of circumstances may give rise to an exigency sufficient to justify a warrantless search, including law enforcement's need to provide emergency assistance to an occupant of a home, Michigan v. Fisher, 558 U.S. 45, 47–48, 130 S.Ct. 546, 175 L.Ed.2d 410 (2009) (per curiam ), engage in "hot pursuit" of a fleeing suspect, United States v. Santana, 427 U.S. 38, 42–43, 96 S.Ct. 2406, 49 L.Ed.2d 300 (1976), or enter a burning building to put out a fire and investigate its cause, Michigan v. Tyler, 436 U.S. 499, 509–510, 98 S.Ct. 1942, 56 L.Ed.2d 486 (1978). As is relevant here, we have also recognized that in some circumstances law enforcement officers may conduct a search without a warrant to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence. See Cupp v. Murphy, 412 U.S. 291, 296, 93 S.Ct. 2000, 36 L.Ed.2d 900 (1973) ; Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23, 40–41, 83 S.Ct. 1623, 10 L.Ed.2d 726 (1963) (plurality opinion). While these contexts do not necessarily involve equivalent dangers, in each a warrantless search is potentially reasonable because "there is compelling need for official action and no time to secure a warrant." Tyler, 436 U.S., at 509, 98 S.Ct. 1942.

To determine whether a law enforcement officer faced an emergency that justified acting without a warrant, this Court looks to the...

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