In possible Driving Under the Influence (DUI) cases involving a serious accident, law enforcement often cannot perform their usual DUI investigative tasks, such as doing a field sobriety test or a breathalyzer test. If the suspect is not in a condition to do these tests or is taken to the hospital to be treated for injuries, it is possible for officers to still complete their investigation. If the officers can develop probable cause that the driver was under the influence, there are ways to continue their investigation.
One way is for law enforcement officers to go to the hospital or treatment center where the driver is taken and request that the driver submit to a blood draw to test his or her Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) at a crime lab. If the suspect does not willingly agree to this blood draw, however, law enforcement needs to obtain a search warrant to get a blood sample. Generally, a blood draw is considered a “search,” according to the Constitution, in which case a search warrant is needed.
When Police Don’t Need a Search Warrant for DUI Blood Draws
Despite the general need for a search warrant, there are some situations where an exception to this rule exists. For example, law enforcement can argue that the crucial circumstances of the case necessitated taking the blood sample without a search warrant or consent. Pressing circumstances are always a potential exception to the search warrant rule, but the state needs to bear the burden of proving that this evidence was needed quickly and that they could not wait for a search warrant to be issued.
Recently in Florida, a suspected drunk driver caused a head-on collision that resulted in serious injuries. This incident occurred along a long stretch of bridge between Miami and the Keys – the driver was airlifted to the nearest hospital, and since he was unconscious and could not consent to having his blood taken, the blood draw was conducted without consent or a search warrant. A test of that blood revealed the driver had a very high BAC and illicit drugs in his system.
During the trial, the driver’s lawyer filed a motion to have this evidence suppressed since there was no consent or search warrant. The court denied this motion, stating that the urgent circumstances of the incident – the crash was on a long stretch of bridge, with no courthouses nearby to obtain a warrant – made it acceptable to take the blood draw without a warrant or consent. By the time law enforcement would have received a search warrant for the blood draw, the reading would not have been accurate.
Taryn J. White is a legal research specialist and DUI law news reporter. Her current accomplishments include helping those facing any driving under the influence arrest charges, get free online assistance in learning how to fight a DUI case for the best possible outcome.