Thursday, August 22, 2019

Can Police Take Blood From an Unconscious DUI Suspect Without a Warrant?

Yes, according to the United States Supreme Court.  In the case of Mitchell vs. Wisconsin the Justices resolved a long standing issue as to whether law enforcement could perform a warrantless blood draw on a DUI suspect if they are unconscious and unable to give valid consent. 

 The facts of the case are not that uncommon:  Police received a report that Mitchell, who was under the influence of alcohol, climbed into a car and drove away. When found, Mitchell was wandering near a lake, stumbling and slurring his words. A preliminary field breath test revealed a BAC of 0.24% and Mitchell was arrested. On the way to the police station for a more reliable breath test, he lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital instead. His blood was drawn and reflected a BAC of 0.22%. After he was charged with drunk driving offenses, Mitchell moved to suppress the blood test results as obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The State relied on its implied consent law to justify the blood draw. The motion was denied and Mitchell's subsequent convictions were upheld in state court. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari. Held: Vacated and remanded. A blood draw is a search of the person. The Fourth Amendment guards against unreasonable searches and generally requires that a warrant first be obtained. However, the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement applies when the compelling need for official action renders a warrantless search reasonable. In drunk driving cases an exigency exists when (1) BAC evidence is dissipating and (2) some other factor creates pressing health, safety, or law enforcement needs which take priority over a warrant application. Both conditions are met when a drunk-driving suspect is unconscious because this creates a medical emergency requiring treatment and will usually involve the drawing of blood anyway. This could delay the application for a warrant which might distort the evidentiary value of a blood draw. There may be an unusual case where a defendant can show that his blood would not have been drawn if police had not been seeking BAC data, and that police could not have reasonably judged that a warrant application would interfere with other pressing duties. Because Mitchell did not have a chance to attempt to make this showing, the case was remanded for this purpose. ( Courtesy of CCAP).

This case will set the tone for state Courts in deciding whether implied consent laws allow for blood draws without a warrant under their individual state statutes.  In California the Supreme Court is currently deciding that issue in the Arredondo Case.