Supreme Court Wary of Warrantless Blood Tests in DUI Cases

Good stuff. The Supreme Court is considering requiring police to get a search warrant before forcing drunken-driving suspects to have blood draws.

http://seattletimes.com/avantgo/2020097394.html

In State of Missouri v. McNeely, the defendant was pulled over for speeding. He failed field sobriety tests and refused to take a breath test. The officer then took McNeely to a nearby hospital, where a technician drew blood over the handcuffed suspect’s objection. The legal issue is whether blood draws taken under these circumstances violate a defendant’s Constitutional rights. If so, the blood test  is suppressed and inadmissible to a jury if the case proceeds to jury trial.

The prosecution argues that getting a nighttime warrant takes an average of two hours, by which point a person’s blood-alcohol level may have dropped below the legal limit.  Alcohol typically dissipates in the bloodstream at a rate of 0.015 to 0.020 percentage points an hour. The limit in Missouri is 0.08 percent.

McNeely’s defense attorney argues that Missouri’s Implied Consent law allows drivers the right to refuse a blood test. All 50 states have implied-consent laws in some form. In short, Implied Consent law says drivers who refuse a blood or breath test automatically lose their license for a year.

My opinion? Police should get warrants. Period. Getting a warrant is the proper remedy when defendants exercise their Constitutional rights. Also, it doesn’t take long to get one. Police can call a judge while driving a defendant to the jail. Judges typically issue warrants over the phone.

Due to the passage of I-502, this issue is especially relevant in WA. I-502 allows for citizens to possess small amounts of marijuana. Unfortunately, when it comes to DUI arrests, I-502 set the legal limit for THC is the bloodstream at only 5 nanograms. This is a very low amount, especially for citizens who are licensed to smoke marijuana.

In other blogs I predicted that the passage of I-502 would probably convince law enforcement to immediately transport citizens investigated for DUI straight to the hospital to undergo blood tests. Blood draws are necessary to determine nanogram levels (they also detect alcohol levels). I also predicted that unlawfully obtained blood tests would soon become the subject matter of intense pretrial litigation. Was the officer trained in drug DUI detection? Was the blood draw performed by someone who is medically licensed? Was it performed within 2 hours of the defendant being pulled over? Was the blood test tampered with? Can the prosecution properly establish the chain of custody of all persons who handled the blood sample? And now, according to the above case, can law enforcement simply circumvent the warrant requirement and obtain blood draws if the defendant refuses?

All of these issues are the subject matter of intense legal arguments. A good trial attorney will argue pretrial motions to suppress unlawfully obtained and/or tainted evidence. Yes, this pending case is a big deal.

We’ll see what happens. . .