April 17, 2013 United States Supreme Court opinions

Missouri v McNeely

McNeeley was arrested for driving while intoxicated and, after refusing to agree to a blood test, the arresting officer ordered a test done anyway. His blood alcohol content was nearly twice the legal limit. McNeely moved to suppress the blood test results as there was no emergency excusing the warrant requirement under the 4th amendment. The trail court agreed and granted the motion. The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed. The Court, 5-4 as to result, affirmed. The majority held that a warrant is required to take a blood sample unless under the totality of the circumstances there are exigent circumstances which excuse the warrant requirement. Mere passage of time which allows the body to absorb and process alcohol is not an exigent circumstance. Because that is all Missouri argued on appeal, the majority refused to analyze the blood draw under the normal totality of the circumstances test. A plurality rejected a rule allowing warrantless blood draws when the time it takes to get to the medical facility for the draw exceeds the normal amount of time for that kind of trip as this would create perverse incentives. The plurality also noted that many states allow for expedited warrant applications using telecommunications technology. Justice Kennedy did not join the plurality on these points arguing that the case did not present the issues and these maters should wait for cases which actually present them. Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices Breyer and Alito dissented in part arguing that because alcohol in the blood is evidence which is destroyed over time, exigent circumstances exist and the proper rule is to require police to obtain a warrant if there is time, but, allow a blood draw if the warrant has nto been issued by the time the suspect arrives at the medical facility. The dissent argued this rule would provide clear guidance to police officers and serve both the warrant requirement and the destruction of evidence principle. The dissent would have vacated the judgment and remanded for further proceedings applying the newly announced rule. Justice Thomas dissented arguing that the processing of alcohol by the body is destruction of evidence creating exigent circumstances. Thus, he argued that a per se rule allowing warrantless blood draws is the correct rule. He also argued that the majority’s approach will be unworkable in practice as police officers will have to speculate as to how much evidence can be destroyed without significant legal consequences happening as a result.

Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.

Kiobel sued Royal under the Alien Tort Statute alleging it aided and abetted human rights violations in Nigeria. The district court allowed some of the allegations to proceed, but, certified an appeal of that decision. The 2nd Circuit dismissed the entire complaint. The Court ordered a second round of briefing and argument on the issue of whether the Statute applies extraterritorially. The Court, 9-0 as to result, affirmed. A five justice majority held that all federal statutes are presumed to not apply outside the territory of the United States. The majority then held that nothing in the text of the statute, the history or policy overcame that presumption. Historically, the act appears to have been enacted to allow foreign ambassadors a forum to litigate claims. Policy supports not applying the statute abroad as foreign affairs are committed to the political branches which can better balance the competing interests. Justice Kennedy added a concurrence noting that Congress has passed other statutes detailing when extraterritorial claims can be made and if other claims arise in the future, courts can take another look at the extraterritorial principle as applied to those facts, Justice Alito, joined by Justice Thomas, added a concurrence noting that only claims which are definitely within the focus of congressional intent can be allowed to proceed. Four justices concurred in judgment. They rejected the reasoning of the majority noting that piracy was covered by the Statute and piracy almost always occurs outside the territory of the United States, Thus, the four concurrers looked to the restatement of foreign affairs law and Court precedent and argued the  appropriate rule is a requirement that either the acts take place in the United States, the defendant be an American national or the violation of international norms substantially and adversely impacts an important American interest including the interest in not providing a safe harbor to common enemies of mankind. The argued this approach best serves the intent of congress. Applying here, the acts took place in Nigeria, the defendants are foreign corporations with almost de minis contact with the United States and the allegations are for indirect aiding of others who committed abuses. Thus, mere presence could not be the basis for jurisdiction and the judgment below should be affirmed.

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