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DOES A NONCONSENSUAL WARRANTLESS DUI BLOOD DRAW VIOLATE THE FOURTH AMENDMENT?

A woman driving her Chevrolet Camaro the wrong way on the 60 freeway in Diamond Bar collided with a vehicle killing all four occupants of that vehicle and two occupants in her car. She was rendered unconscious and was airlifted to the hospital. Approximately one hour later, the investigating officer arrived at the scene of the accident. He smelled alcohol in the Camaro and saw an open can of alcohol in the driver’s seat. Several hours later, the investigating officer responded to the hospital. Although the driver was unconscious, he could smell alcohol on her breath.

Because the driver was unconscious, the officer could not administer a field sobriety breath test. Based on the evidence, he placed the unconscious woman under arrest and requested that hospital personnel complete a DUI blood draw. The driver’s blood was tested and found to have a 0.15 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The driver survived and she was charged with six counts of murder.

The driver sought to suppress the warrantless blood draw evidence, but her motion was denied by the trial court. Ultimately, she pled no contest to the six counts and was sentenced to a term in prison of 30 years to life.

The driver appealed the trial court’s denial of her motion to suppress the evidence on grounds that the Fourth Amendment’s protected her against the nonconsensual extraction of her blood. Prior case law has held that the Fourth Amendment extends to DUI blood draws as a unreasonable search. However, these cases have also held that a warrantless, nonconsensual blood draw may be constitutional when there are exigent circumstances. The analysis must be determined by the “totality of the circumstances.”

Considering that BAC dissipates over time, a warrantless, nonconsensual blood draw may be the only way a DUI investigation can proceed and the evidence preserved. Finding that that the circumstances in this case justified the blood draw, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of the motion to dismiss.

Not all such cases justify a warrantless and nonconsensual DUI blood draw. In this case, the defendant argued that there was plenty of time and opportunity to obtain a warrant. The argument is sound. However, the appellate court noted that the circumstances were chaotic, with multiple fatalities and an intense investigation. Considering the totality of the circumstances, the Court of Appeal found the warrantless blood draw reasonable based on exigent circumstances.

Had the driver been successful in getting the blood draw results suppressed, it is likely that the murder charges would have been reduced to vehicular manslaughter and her punishment would have been far less severe. That is because without the BAC evidence, the state would not be able to prove murder.

Motions to suppress BAC evidence, when the circumstances warrant, can be a critical tool in the defense of a DUI. The motion is based on a violation of the search and seizure protections found in the Fourth Amendment. As this case illustrates, there are many exceptions to the search and seizure violations. An experienced DUI defense lawyer can assist the defendant who thinks his or her Fourth Amendment rights have been violated in connection with the collection of DUI evidence.

Orange County DUI defense attorney William Weinberg offers a free consultation to review your options. You may contact him at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or by email at bill@williamweinberg.com.

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