US Supreme Court rules who police can draw blood from a unconscious person if they are investigating a DWI crime
The United States Supreme Court ruled this week that the police are allowed to draw blood in a medically appropriate manner for the purposes of a DWI investigation without a search warrant.
Submitted by New Jersey DWI Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In this case it appears the police have brought a individual who was found outside a vehicle possibly involved in a car crash to the hospital with the intent to draw blood without first having obtained a search warrant. The suspect was unconscious I could not give consent. The court found that because the body continually metabolizing alcohol, thus reducing the actual amount of quantifiable alcohol in the blood system, constitutes emergency circumstances also recognized by the court as exigent circumstances, which remove the need for a neutral and detached magistrate judge to sign a warrant based off of probable cause.
The court stated: ” The exigent-circumstances exception, Alito continued, will normally allow police to take blood from an unconscious drunk-driving suspect without having to get a warrant. Blood-alcohol limits serve an important purpose, Alito wrote: They “are needed for enforcing laws that save lives.” And they need to be performed promptly, Alito added, because alcohol will disappear from the bloodstream over time. “Evidence is literally disappearing,” he summarized, “by the minute.” When a suspect can’t take a breath test, then the only option is to perform a blood test; indeed, Alito observed, it would be “perverse” if it were harder to do the blood test when someone is unconscious, and therefore even more intoxicated.
Moreover, Alito noted, the fact that the driver is unconscious will create an extra burden on police officers, who likely will have to take the driver to the hospital “not just for the blood test itself but for urgent medical care.” The driver’s condition may create other problems that take up the officers’ time – for example, preserving evidence or directing traffic. Having to deal with all of these issues, Alito posited, would create a “dilemma” for police: “It would force them to choose between prioritizing a warrant application, to the detriment of critical health and safety needs, and delaying the warrant application, and thus the” blood-alcohol test. And although technology has made it possible for police to get a warrant “faster and more easily,” “the time required has shrunk, but it has not disappeared.”
The practical affects of this decision may be limited to factual circumstances where an alleged individual involved in any type of traumatic event is brought to a hospital unconscious; most often from motor vehicle crashes where alcohol is involved, and the police are investigating the affect the alcohol intoxication may have had on the traumatic event/car crash. These facts and circumstances are different then events involving cocaine, heroin, and other narcotics because those Schedule I narcotic substances remain in the blood system a lot longer and can be obtained through toxicology test if a subject is unconscious in anticipation of medical procedures. The issue is this case is the specific investigation of alcohol arising out of an unconscious person.
You also must remember New Jersey has a (court founded and state constitutionally based) greater expectation of privacy than the federal jurisdiction and will still require a warrant in these circumstances based on case law. The question will be whether the New Jersey the state Supreme Court adopts this lowers the standard and allows this warrantless invasion of the body going forward. The next question will be whether the state courts would apply any retroactivity two cases in the system at this time for only two all new cases after New Jersey changes his criminal procedure if they are going to allow this procedure.
Jeffrey S. Hark, Esq.