In alleged DUI cases that involve serious accidents, the police are often not able to perform their usual DUI investigations which include field sobriety tests and a breathalyzer test, if the suspect consents to them. If the suspect is in no condition to perform those tests due to injuries from the crash or is taken to the hospital, the police cannot perform the normal DUI investigation. If the police are able to develop probable cause that the suspect was driving while impaired from alcohol or drugs, there are ways for the police to continue investigating a DUI after a crash.
The police officer can go to the hospital and request that the driver submit to a blood draw. After the blood is taken from the DUI suspect, the police send it to the crime lab where it is tested for drug and alcohol content.
However, as a result of a United States Supreme Court case that was decided in 2013, the police cannot take a DUI suspect’s blood without consent from the suspect or a search warrant. The state used to be able to argue that they did not need a search warrant due to exigent circumstances inherent in a DUI case- that alcohol is constantly metabolizing in the blood and as time passes, getting an accurate blood alcohol reading becomes more difficult. The recent Supreme Court case rejected that argument. The general rule is that a blood draw is considered a search under the Constitution so the police need consent or a search warrant to obtain someone’s blood.
Despite this rule, there is always the potential that an exception exists. For instance if the state can argue there are exigent circumstances that necessitated the blood draw without consent or a search warrant, the blood draw might still be valid. Exigent circumstances are always a potential exception to the search warrant requirement, but the state must show that they needed the evidence quickly and there was no reasonable way to obtain a search warrant in time before the evidence was likely to be lost or destroyed.
In a recent DUI case in Florida, a DUI suspect caused a head on crash that resulted in serious injuries. This crash occurred along the long bridge between the Keys and Miami. The suspect was taken to the closest hospital by helicopter. He was not conscious and could not consent to a blood draw. The police took his blood without consent or a search warrant. It was later tested and found to have a high alcohol content and illegal drugs. The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the alcohol and drugs in the defendant’s blood since the search warrant requirement was not followed.
The court ruled in favor of the state. The court found that exigent circumstances existed and a search warrant was not needed. Exigent circumstances applied because the crash happened in an area where there were no courthouses for hours in either direction. Therefore, the police could not have found a judge to consider a search warrant request and then delivered a search warrant to the hospital for several hours. By then, the blood alcohol content of the suspect would have dissipated. A dissipating blood alcohol content is not enough for exigent circumstances on its own, but it is a factor if the police cannot get to a judge to request a search warrant in a reasonable period of time. Additionally, the fact that the crash occurred at night was another factor indicating the police would have had a hard time finding a judge to look at a search warrant application.
The facts of this DUI case are fairly unique. In most cases, if the police want to obtain a person’s blood to test it in a DUI case, the police will need consent or a search warrant. It is hard to contemplate a scenario where a suspect would benefit from consenting to a blood draw so police should be required to obtain a search warrant in just about every DUI case.