Should an officer be required to obtain a warrant before ordering the drawing of a blood sample from an unwilling DUI suspect?
Our Birmingham DUI lawyers, like many across the country, are anxiously awaiting a definitive ruling on this from the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to come out with an answer by sometime this spring.
In the meantime, absent any clear direction, DUI blood samples drawn without a warrant could potentially be challenged or even suppressed. It’s important for you as a DUI suspect to indicate your unwillingness to consent (unless of course you are not actually impaired). This may not stop the proceedings, but it could give your DUI defense lawyer grounds upon which to later challenge the evidence.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a warrantless DUI case last month. In that situation, a man was stopped in Missouri at 2 a.m. for driving about 10 miles per hour over the speed limit.
The state highway trooper reported the suspect failed four different field sobriety tests, after which he refused to submit to either a breathalyzer or blood test. Without the man’s consent and without a warrant, the trooper took the suspect to a nearby hospital and ordered technicians to draw blood from the man, who was handcuffed.
The trooper later admitted in court that he had never had trouble getting a warrant quickly in cases like these, and there was nothing in this particular situation that prevented him from taking that extra step. But he said he’d recently read an article saying it was no longer necessary in Missouri. That wasn’t true, and the state’s high court ended up tossing the blood test evidence.
The case was ultimately appealed all the way to the nation’s high court.
Prosecutors in the case are contending that getting a warrant could possibly delay the entire blood-draw process up to two hours – a critical window of time considering that alcohol concentration dissipates rapidly in the human body.
However, there is no indication that obtaining a warrant actually takes that long in general practice. Furthermore, the courts have previously upheld the necessity for officer’s to obtain a warrant when searching someone’s home, finding that one’s dwelling is afforded greater privacy rights than his vehicle. Why then would we assume that a person’s bodily fluids – perhaps the most intimate of possessions – should be subject to less consideration under the Fourth Amendment?
If the responses during the oral arguments are any indication, it appeared that the justices were equally unimpressed with the prosecution’s stance. Justice Sonia Sotomayor asserted that were the court to rule in the state’s favor, it would essentially be an approval stamp for law enforcement agencies to simply “use the most intrusive method” to prove their cases.
As it now stands, some 25 states have passed legislation that effectively prohibits the drawing of blood in DUI cases without a warrant. Alabama, however, isn’t one of those. Still, Justice Anthony Kennedy questioned whether conviction rates in states that have passed such measures is any lower. The fact is – as the prosecutor was forced to admit – forcing police to obtain search warrants prior to blood draws doesn’t affect the conviction rate at all.
Ultimately, then, the prosecution’s argument falls flat. The matter at hand comes down to protecting a person’s constitutional rights – something we believe should always take first priority.