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DWI Defense

Legality of Unconscious Blood Draw

A unique kind of DWI case recently made its way to the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas. It involved the question of whether the police were justified in taking a blood sample from a DWI suspect without a search warrant. The case was unique because at the time of the blood draw, the suspect was unconscious to what was happening around him.

Once the case came to court, the defendant asked the court to suppress the blood draw because the police did not seek out warrant. It is not clear from the record whether the police could have retrieved a warrant had they tried, but it seems they are relying on two different reasons that the blood draw was reasonable:

  • Because of exigent circumstances (an unconscious suspect), the blood draw was justified;
  • Because of the implied consent to a blood draw under Texas law, TEX. TRANSP. CODE §§ 724.011-0.14.

But both of these justifications for conducting a warrantless search of a person’s blood can only be analyzed under the rules explained in a recent court cases on warrantless blood draws.

There has been a significant shift in the way the police are allowed to take warrantless blood draws because of newly decided cases. Because of Texas law of implied consent to a blood draw, it used to be the law that the police could force a person to give a blood sample in connection with a DWI investigation if he or she had a prior charge of DWI, but that is no longer the case.

Under a newly decided Supreme Court decision, Birchfield v. North Dakota, state laws allowing the police to take warrantless blood draws are unconstitutional. The only times a police officer can take a warrantless blood draw while investing a DWI are when there are exigent circumstances requiring it. Otherwise they must first obtain a search warrant from a judge.

Exceptions to the Warrant Requirement

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects each of us from unreasonable searches and seizures of our personal property and persons unless a search warrant issued on probable cause. This applies directly to taking a blood sample because nothing could be more personal or reveal more about us than our actual blood. That is why the Supreme Court has ruled that the police must first obtain a warrant before taking blood from a citizen’s body.

An exception to this requirement is known as exigent circumstances. For example, if the police were involved in investigating a DWI while the the suspect was unconscious and there was not reasonable opportunity to get a warrant, then they may be justified in taking the blood sample without a warrant. The case must be compelling because the bar for showing exigent circumstances is so high.

Understanding and Defending Your Rights

If you are accused of DWI, ensure that you know your rights. At The Wilder DWI Defense Firm, we know what you rights are and can explain them to you, then we will defend those rights in a court of law. If you are facing DWI charges, contact us today for a free case evaluation.

(image courtesy of Bethany Legg)