Posts tagged with "per se unreasonable"

U.S. Supreme Court to Tackle Nonconsensual, Warrantless Blood Draws

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Missouri v. McNeely (11-1425) and its ruling on warrantless blood draws has impacted the criminal justice community and Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.

Katz v. United States

In the pivotal U.S. Supreme Court case Katz v. United States, the justices stated, “Searches conducted without warrants have been held unlawful notwithstanding facts unquestionably showing probable cause.”[1] The compulsory administration of a blood test “plainly involves the broadly conceived reach of a search and seizure.”[2] Warrantless searches are “per se unreasonable… subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.”[3]

One such recognized exception is exigent circumstances, which “refers to those situations in which law enforcement agents will be unable or unlikely to effectuate and arrest, search or seizure, for which probable cause exists, unless they act swiftly and, without seeking prior judicial authorization.”[4]

Case Background

McNeely involved a traffic stop turned DUI investigation, followed by the compulsory administration of a blood test against the defendant’s wishes. This scenario was previously expounded upon by the Supreme Court in Schmerber v. California, which permitted the warrantless taking of blood samples in light of “‘special facts’ that might have caused the officer to reasonably believe he was faced with an emergency situation in which the delay in obtaining a warrant would threaten the destruction of evidence.”[5] Concerning special facts in that case:

The threat of evidence destruction was caused by the fact that the percentage of alcohol in a person’s blood begins to diminish shortly after drinking stops and because there was an accident requiring time to be taken to both transport the defendant to the hospital and to investigate the scene of the accident.[6]

Court Ruling

However, the Court in McNeely characterized the facts as “a routine DWI case” where there were “no other ‘special facts’ of exigency.”[7] As such, “[i]n routine DWI cases, in which no ‘special facts’ exist other than the natural dissipation alcohol in the blood, a warrant must be obtained before [a nonconsensual blood draw occurs].”[8] Thus, on Supreme Court review, McNeely presents the following constitutional inquiry: “police authority to take a blood sample from a driver who allegedly was drunk, when the officer has no warrant but wants to act quickly because of the chemical fact that alcohol in the blood dissipates over time.”

Indeed, only two months ago, I discussed a Superior Court of Connecticut case addressing this very scenario following a deadly automobile accident. During a motion to suppress a blood toxicology report, the State made the same argument set forth by Missouri – “evidence of the defendant’s blood alcohol level would have been lost if not obtained within a reasonable time”[9] – and equally failed because “the record [did] not contain any information that supports the finding that an exigency actually existed.”[10] How the Supreme Court decides on this question will undoubtedly have a widespread impact on police investigations involving intoxicated drivers.

Contact Us

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.


[1] United States v. Katz, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967).

[2] Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 767 (1966).

[3] State v. Aviles, 277 Conn. 281, 293 (2006).

[4] Id.

[5] Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 770-71 (1966).

[6] Id.

[7] State  v. McNeely, 358 S.W.3d 65, 74 (Mo. 2012).

[8] Id.

[9] State v. D’Andrea, 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3381  (2006).

[10] Id.

Warrantless Search of Defendant’s Vehicle Upheld; Probable Cause Established by Drug-Related Items Found on His Person

In a recent case, a criminal defendant failed in persuading the Supreme Court of Connecticut that the State provided insufficient evidence that he constructively possessed crack cocaine and marijuana found in the car he was driving. In his appeal, he also argued that the search itself was improper and all evidence collected derived from it should have been excluded. At trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence, arguing that the officers conducted a warrantless search of his vehicle in violation of the state and federal constitutions. This motion was denied, because the trial court determined that the search was a valid search incident to a lawful arrest.

Under state and federal law, individuals are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, houses, papers, and effects. A search conducted without a warrant evidencing probable cause is per se unreasonable, and evidence derived from this illegal search will be excluded unless one of very few exceptions apply. This includes the automobile exception, which permits officers to search a vehicle without a warrant where “the searching officer[s] have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband” or other objects that would be subject to seizure and destruction. There are two primary justifications underlying this exception: the ability of a car to move (thus creating exigent circumstances) and the diminished expectation of privacy afforded to automobiles.

In this case, officers saw the defendant drop wax folds containing what appeared to be heroin and later swallow them. As such, they had probable cause “to believe that additional contraband would be found in the car [the defendant] had been driving.” This determination was bolstered by the fact that officers found rolling papers and $550 in cash directly on the defendant. After dispensing of alternative grounds regarding the legality of the search, the Supreme Court held that the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress.

When faced with a charge for possession or distribution of controlled substances, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-211-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Toxicology Report Suppressed in DUI Case Because Warrantless Search Exceptions Did Not Apply

In this criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut granted a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence, because the State did not show exigent circumstances allowing the warrantless seizure.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 15, 2003. The defendant was involved in an automobile accident, resulting in the death of the other driver. He was transported to a nearby hospital where, without a warrant, police requested that his blood be drawn. One of the officers unaware of this order was informed of that the blood had been drawn, so he elected to not perform the field sobriety and chemical alcohol tests. Five days later, police applied for and was granted a warrant for the blood toxicology report. The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI), in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a(a), and second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, among several other counts. On March 8, 2004, the defendant submitted a motion to suppress the toxicology report, arguing that they were obtained in violation of the search and seizure protections of the state and federal constitutions.

Under state and federal law, individuals are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, houses, papers, and effects. The “[c]ompulsory administration of a blood test” clearly constitutes a search and seizure of one’s person. If a search is conducted without a warrant evidencing probable cause, it is per se unreasonable, and evidence derived from this illegal search will be excluded unless one of a “few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions” applies. Two such exceptions to the exclusionary rule are inevitable discovery and exigent circumstances.

The inevitable discovery exception will thwart suppression of evidence if the State can show, by the preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not), that through lawful means the evidence would have been discovered anyway. Officers must have been actively pursuing such means before the constitutional violation in question occurred. In this case, the State argued that this exception applied because had the officer not been told the blood was drawn, he would have proceeded with the various OMVUI-related tests. Therefore, the State would have inevitably discovered the defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC). However, the Superior Court was not persuaded, because the State assumed that the defendant would have consented to the alcohol chemical tests. Under CGS § 14-227b, a person is free to refuse the test, though he will face license suspension for doing so. As such, the police could not presume that this procedure would inevitably lead them to discovery of the defendant’s BAC level.

Exigent circumstances doctrine applies where police officers, who have requisite probable cause, do not have time to get a warrant. They must act swiftly to effectuate an arrest, search, or seizure, to avoid, for example, the destruction of evidence. The State bears the burden to point to specific and articulable facts that gave rise to the exigent circumstances. In this case, the State argued that if they did not order that the defendant’s blood be taken, they would have lost evidence of his BAC level. However, the Superior Court noted that the record was devoid of any facts to support this proposition. Therefore, because neither exception applied to the facts of this case, the Superior Court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.