Back in April, the U.S. Supreme Court made a decisive ruling indicating that in order for police to draw blood from an uncooperative suspect in a DUI case, generally, a warrant must first be obtained.
However, our Birmingham DUI defense attorneys understand that while the law is clear now, it wasn’t several months ago. As such, there could be a fair number of pending Alabama DUI cases for which key evidence may need to be tossed, if officers failed to obtain a warrant for it.
That’s what prosecutors in Seattle, WA are seeing, particularly in a number of high-profile cases.
One of those involved a 20-year-old female driver who was alleged to have struck a man in a wheelchair as he crossed the street in a crosswalk last December. The man had his six-year-old niece in his lap. The driver stopped to render aid and called police. The man in the wheelchair reportedly suffered a broken leg and his niece a head injury. At the time of the crash, officers collected a sample of the driver’s blood, which ultimately revealed a blood-alcohol level of 0.098 percent and the presence of marijuana.
Her blood-alcohol level was four times the legal limit for a driver under the age of 21, while she registered a THC blood level of 5.4 nanograms. It is believed the woman had a valid prescription for medical marijuana.
In Washington, any more than 5 nanograms of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, is considered over the legal limit. Alabama doesn’t have such a limitation, though marijuana for any purpose is illegal here, while it is legal for both medical and recreational purposes in Washington.
However, prosecutors in the case declined to use this evidence against her. As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in McNeely v. Missouri, the defendant would have had a valid challenge to the submission of that evidence because the police didn’t get a warrant first. Had prosecutors been able to use that evidence, they likely would have charged the defendant with a number of felonies, including vehicular assault and felony reckless endangerment. Instead, she pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of DUI and reckless endangerment. She ultimately received no jail time and five years of probation.
Prosecutors estimate there are potentially hundreds of pending DUI cases in Washington that could be in jeopardy. Another one of those involves a man accused of striking four family members, hitting two, as they crossed a Seattle street back in March. A blood test was taken, but it was done so, again, without a warrant.
The Supreme Court decision left little leeway in this regard. The court did concede that police could draw a suspect’s blood without a warrant, but only in cases of emergency. The frustrating aspect about that is that the court failed to define what constitutes as an emergency. This is something that will no doubt be argued in the courts for years to come.
As far as we know, there haven’t been any high-profile cases in Alabama where this has been an issue, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see it come up.