Is a Blood Test in a DWUI Case a Search and Seizure?

Someone arrested in Wyoming under suspicion of Driving While Under the Influence of drugs or alcohol (DWUI) will be offered a choice between a breath test, a urine test, and a blood draw.

When a person refuses a test or is unable to consent to the test, law enforcement might order a blood test to obtain evidence that the suspect is intoxicated. However, ordering a blood test without the suspect’s consent and without a warrant might violate the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment.

Under the Supreme Court’s analysis of the Fourth Amendment, if a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the place to be searched, then a warrant is required. In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court stated conclusively that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in their own body and blood and that taking a person’s blood is a search.

Determining whether police are justified in taking a person’s blood without a warrant is somewhat less clear.

Does a Warrantless Blood Draw Violate the Fourth Amendment?

Two U.S. Supreme Court cases address the legality of warrantless blood tests in a DWUI case.

Schmerber v. California—1966

In the 1966 decision of Schmerber v. California, the defendant was hospitalized after an automobile crash. He was placed under arrest at the hospital on suspicion of DWUI. Although the defendant did not consent, the police instructed a physician to withdraw the suspect’s blood.

The Court reviewed the case and applied the law that covers warrantless searches and cases in which the inability to perform a search could lead to the destruction of evidence. The Court stated,

The interests in human dignity and privacy which the Fourth Amendment protects forbids any such intrusions on the mere chance that desired evidence might be obtained. In the absence of a clear indication that in fact such evidence will be found, these fundamental human interests require law offices to suffer the risk that such evidence may disappear unless there is an immediate search.

The Court discussed the underlying reasoning behind search warrants, stating,

Search warrants are ordinarily required for searches of dwellings, and, absent an emergency, no less could be required where intrusions into the human body are concerned...The importance of informed, detached and deliberate determinations of the issue whether or not to invade another's body in search of evidence of guilt is indisputable and great.

The Court then addressed whether the search was reasonable. It found that the delay in taking the defendant to the hospital coupled with the dissipation of alcohol from the defendant's blood constituted an emergency in which law enforcement could not seek a warrant. The Court also stated that a blood test was a proper means of obtaining evidence and that the test was performed in a reasonable manner.

The Court concluded that the blood test did not violate the defendant's Fourth Amendment rights and that the blood test was not an unreasonable search.

Missouri v. McNeely—2013

The Supreme Court next took up the issue in the 2013 case of Missouri v. McNeely. Similar to the Schmerber case, the defendant was arrested under suspicion of DWUI and taken to the hospital. The defendant refused the test, and a lab technician drew blood at the direction of law enforcement.

The Court reviewed Schmerber, noting that the decision was a limited one and that determining whether a search was reasonable required a review of the totality of the circumstances. The Court also noted that significant technological advancements make it easier to obtain a warrant than when Schmerber was decided in 1966.

Ultimately, the Court affirmed its decision in Schmerber and found that whether a nonconsensual blood draw violates the Fourth Amendment prohibition against warrantless searches and seizures should be analyzed according to the totality of the circumstances.

When considering a challenge to the constitutionality of a blood draw without a warrant or the suspect’s consent, courts need to determine whether law enforcement could obtain a warrant before ordering the blood draw. And in today’s day and age, when judges are virtually available 24/7, prosecutors will have a more difficult time proving that they could not obtain a warrant before ordering a blood draw.

Charged with a DWUI? Just Criminal Law Protects Your One Shot at Justice

If you were arrested on suspicion of DWUI and were forced to submit to a blood draw, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands how the law applies to these cases and who can argue that the search was unreasonable. In some cases, there is a genuine question as to whether the defendant consented to the blood draw, or whether they were coerced when law enforcement agents told them that their license could be suspended and they may be subject to additional fines or even imprisonment. And if police officers drew your blood without your consent and without a warrant, there is a good chance that you could have evidence of your alleged intoxication excluded from trial, resulting in a Not Guilty verdict or a favorable plea bargain.

At Just Criminal Law, our criminal defense team will investigate the charges against you and provide a vigorous defense against DWUI charges. To learn more, contact us today to schedule a personalized case review and strategy session to discuss your case and how we can help.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is offered for educational purposes only. This information is not offered as legal advice. A person accused of a crime should always consult with an attorney before making decisions that have legal consequences.