Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757 (1966)

2012-09-02 18:23:19

In Schmerber, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the compelled extraction of blood sample evidence from an arrestee. While hospitalized for injuries after an automobile accident, the petitioner was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. The police then instructed doctors to take a blood sample from the petitioner for chemical analysis of his blood alcohol content. Petitioner objected to the withdrawal of his blood and the chemical analysis as violations of his Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments rights. The Appellate Department of the California Superior Court rejected the petitioner’s challenges and affirmed his conviction.

The Court (five to four) found no violation of the petitioner’s Fifth Amendment privilege against compelled self-incrimination because the taking of a blood sample was neither ‘‘testimonial’’ nor ‘‘communicative’’ in nature. Rather, the Court found the blood sample evidence similar to other ‘‘real or physical evidence’’ such as fingerprints, photographs, and handwriting or voice exemplars. The Court further found no Fourth Amendment violation because, although the extraction of blood was a search and seizure, it was justified by the officer’s probable cause to arrest the petitioner and the need to prevent the destruction of physical evidence, and the means used to extract the blood (at a hospital, by a doctor) were reasonable. In addition, the Court found that there was no due process violation; and that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel was not implicated, because there was no privilege as to which the petitioner could seek counsel’s advice.


References and Further Reading

  • Allen, Ronald J., and Kristin M. Mace, Note, Criminal Law: The Self-Incrimination Clause Explained and Its Future Predicted, Criminal Law & Criminology 94 (2004): 243.
  • Amar, Akhil Reed, and Renee B. Lettow, Fifth Amendment First Principles: The Self-Incrimination Clause, Michigan Law Review 93 (1995): 857.
  • Hardy, Julie A., Note, The Admissibility of Mental State Observations Obtained during Unlawful Custodial Interrogation: Drawing the Line on the Real or Physical Evidence Distinction, B. C. Law Review 30 (1989): 1029
  • Matz, Andrew L., Note, Significant Development: The Sounds of Silence: Post-Miranda Silence and the Inference of Sanity, B.U.L. Review 65 (1985): 1025.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Breithaupt v. Abram, 352 U.S. 432 (1957)
  • Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1 (1964)
  • Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961)
  • Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)
  • Preston v. United States, 376 U.S. 364 (1964)

See also Arrest; Due Process; DWI; Exemplars; Forced Speech; Privileges and Immunities (XIV); Probable Cause; Right to Counsel (VI); Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165 (1952); Search (General Definition); Seizures; Self-Incrimination: Miranda and Evolution; Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985); Warrantless Searches