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U.S. Supreme Court Rules Officers Can Draw Blood from Unconscious Suspect

Do officers need a warrant to draw blood from a DUI suspect?

In an important decision that could have broad implications in the field of DUI law, the Supreme Court recently ruled that a warrant is not necessary to draw blood from an unconscious suspect.  Generally, the Fourth Amendment requires that officers obtain a warrant to take a blood draw. However, in a five to four vote in the case of Mitchell v. Wisconsin, the nation’s high court upheld a Wisconsin law that held that drivers in the state have impliedly consented to a blood draw if suspected of a DUI.  The court further stated that exigent circumstances justify officers taking blood without a warrant.

Stepping Away from Precedent 

This Supreme Court decision, which featured Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer, Clarence Thomas, and Brett Kavanaugh in the majority, represents a departure from previous court rulings.  Previously, the high court had held that a blood draw should be considered a substantial bodily intrusion. The court held accordingly that a blood draw should not be permitted when there are several less intrusive means of enforcing drunk driving laws, even when drivers are unconscious.  For instance, getting a warrant in today’s digital era can typically be done in just moments.

Mitchell v. Wisconsin conflicted with a 2013 Supreme Court case that held officers had violated the Constitution by ordering a warrantless blood draw in a DUI case.  Two of the justices that were in the majority in that case have since left the court. Ultimately, this 2019 case deciding the issue continues to highlight a disagreement among the justices as to whether the warrantless blood draw should be permitted based on implied consent laws or exigent circumstances.

Arizona’s Stance on Unconscious DUI Suspects 

In 2017, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that officers cannot take a blood sample from an unconscious DUI suspect absent a search warrant or exigent circumstances.  Exigent circumstances are defined as those beyond the natural dissipation of alcohol within the human body. With the U.S. Supreme Court’s new ruling, it is possible that Arizona will change its stance and adopt a rule that would allow for warrantless blood draws from DUI suspects in all instances. 

Posted in: DUI