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Florida Police Can Order Blood Draw in DUI Manslaughter Case Where There is Evidence of Impairment

In a normal DUI case in Florida, where there is no accident with serious injury or death, the police do not request or seek to obtain a blood sample of the defendant to test for alcohol content. The procedure is often different when a DUI case does involve an accident with serious injury or death.

In a DUI manslaughter case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant failed to yield and caused a crash that killed the other driver. A police officer responded to the scene and observed that the defendant appeared to be impaired from alcohol. The police officer testified that he smelled an odor of alcohol coming from the defendant and she was belligerent with multiple police officers. As a result, he ordered the defendant to submit a blood sample that was later tested and found to have an alcohol concentration above the legal limit in Florida of 0.08.

The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the blood alcohol test results claiming the police officer did not have a right to order a blood sample taken from her and tested without a search warrant. The Florida implied consent law means DUI cases are treated differently when a serious injury or death is involved. In that case, if the police officer has probable cause to believe the person who caused the accident was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the police officer has a right to order a blood draw and test it for alcohol content. Implied consent means a driver consents to this process when he/she agrees to accept a driver’s license in Florida.

The state also argued that exigent circumstances existed that allowed the police officer to obtain the blood sample without a warrant. One exception to the general rule that the police must get a search warrant to search a person, including getting a blood sample, is the exigent circumstances exception. This exception applies when the police do not have time to get a search warrant and there is a risk that evidence might be lost. In the case of a DUI manslaughter, the court discussed how the police officer responding to the crash scene has to take time to sort out what happened and then has to evaluate the driver to see if there is evidence of impairment. Once that is done, it still may take a couple of hours to obtain a search warrant. Since alcohol continually dissipates in the blood, the evidence of blood alcohol content may be gone by the time the suspect driver has his/her blood drawn. In such cases, it is possible that the police could use the exigent circumstances exception to more quickly obtain a suspected DUI driver’s blood without applying for a search warrant.