A case involving a Colorado DUI charge has been sent to the nation's highest court, to determine whether police officer's need a warrant to take a blood sample from a suspect. Unlawful search and seizure is protected by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. If they take up the case, and rule in favor of prosecutors, it will be easier police to get a blood sample without a warrant.
According to the Denver Post, Jack Lee Schaufele was involved in a motor vehicle accident, which resulted in injury to himself and others. This occurred during rush hour when Schaufele drove into a busy intersection and hit an oncoming car. He ended up in the hospital, where he lay unresponsive for some time. A police officer told a nurse to draw blood from Schaufele for analysis of his blood alcohol content (BAC). The officers never applied for a search warrant to draw blood, and the analysis was later used against Schaufele in court.
Schaufele's BAC was reported to be 0.205 %, well over the legal limit of 0.08%. He was prosecuted for vehicular assault, driving under the influence (DUI), and careless driving. However, his BAC analysis was suppressed in court, because the evidence was obtained without a search warrant, in violation of constitutional guarantee against unlawful search and seizure. The prosecution took the case to the state's supreme court.
A prior Supreme Court decision, Missouri v. McNeely, held that the fact that BAC levels dissipate over time is not in and of itself “exigency” to justify an officer ordering a blood draw analysis without obtaining a warrant. That case involved a routine DUI case, with no additional factors suggesting an emergency. However, the Court did leave open the possibility that some drunk driving cases could involve exigent circumstances to justify a warrantless blood test.
The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision to suppress the evidence. Citing Missouri v. McNeely, the court's majority rejected the prosecution's stance that the length of time required to get a search warrant constitutes exigent circumstances to justify a blood draw from a suspected drunk driver. Accordingly, they held that a warrantless blood draw may ensue if an officer could reasonably conclude that there is not sufficient time to seek and receive a warrant.
If the Supreme Court rules on this case, it will have an impact Washington state DUI cases, and others across the country. The Washington Court of Appeals ruled on a similar case earlier this year. Jose Figeroa Martines was involved in a motor vehicle accident on State Route 167. He was arrested by Washington State Trooper Dennis Tardiff, who reported Martines smelled of alcohol. The officer obtained a warrant to take a blood sample, however the warrant did not say anything about the testing of the blood. Blood analysis showed he had a BAC of 0.12% and the presence of Valium in his system.
Martines was charged with felony driving under the influence, but appealed his conviction arguing there was no reasonable suspicion to test his blood for drugs. The Appeals Court ruled in favor of Martines, and further held that a warrant is required to “search” blood, just as it is required to seize it. A trooper would have to ask a judge to approve a warrant to both take blood, and analyze it, limited only to testing for items related to the DUI.