No DUI blood test without a warrant, appellate court rules

The Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. Courts have long held that a person has the greatest expectation of Fourth Amendment protection in his home. As such, it stands to reason that a person’s body should be considered even more sacred than his home and entitled to the greatest protection.

When an individual is suspected of driving under the influence, he may be asked to submit to field sobriety tests and a breathalyzer test. Because of implied consent laws in West Virginia and other states, refusal to submit to these tests can result in a loss of license. But officers usually cannot forcibly test a suspect’s breath, blood or urine without a warrant.

Few things would feel more intrusive than the forcible drawing of blood. Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an important ruling in 2013 saying that it is generally a violation of a suspect’s constitutional rights to forcibly test his blood without a warrant. State supreme courts and appellate courts are now following suit.

In Tennessee, for instance, the state court of appeals recently ruled in favor of a DUI defendant whose blood was forcibly tested in May 2012. The man had allegedly crashed his vehicle into the side of a building and then fled the scene. He was arrested about 20 minutes later.

He was taken to a nearby hospital and forced against his will to submit to a blood test. The officer had not obtained a warrant despite the fact that doing so would have been incredibly fast and easy. Officers in that county had 24-hour access to a magistrate who would issue warrants.

Prosecutors later tried to argue that implied consent laws allowed for a forcible blood test without a warrant and that there were “exigent circumstances” necessitating an immediate blood draw without time to wait for a warrant.

Thankfully, the appellate court disagreed. Explaining the decision, one judge wrote: “While the state may attempt to persuade the accused to submit to a search by providing consequences for a failure to submit to a test ordered upon probable cause, we hold that the privilege of driving does not alone create consent for a forcible blood draw.”

If you have been charged with DUI or any other crime, remember that how evidence was obtained can be very important to your case. An experienced attorney can examine all the details and help you understand your rights and options.

Source:, “Tennessee Courts Crack Down On Cops Taking Blood From Drivers,” Oct. 15, 2014

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