Like most other California residents, you are probably aware that you have certain rights when it comes to searches and seizures by police. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires law enforcement officials to follow certain rules before conducting searches and seizures, even as they apply to a DUI stop.
In the past, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a blood draw to determine your blood alcohol content was considered an invasive search for which police need either a search warrant or your consent. If you were unconscious at the time, police needed to get that warrant before drawing blood. However, a recent ruling made a change to that former blanket rule.
The Case They Ruled on to Make That Change
Police apprehended a man in another state on suspicion of drunk driving. Police administered a breath test and then transported him to a hospital to draw blood. During the trip, the man passed out. Even though he was not conscious, police ordered personnel at the hospital to proceed with the blood draw anyway -- without a search warrant. The results ultimately led to a conviction.
The man appealed, saying police violated his constitutional rights because they failed to obtain a search warrant before the blood draw. The case ultimately ended up with the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the blood draw did not require a warrant due to "exigent circumstances."
Why the Court Says It Ruled the Way It Did
In emergency situations or exigent circumstances, police often do not need a search warrant. The court says that it considers an unconscious person suspected of DUI such a circumstance. Since the alcohol in a person's system dissipates over time, the sooner the blood draw occurs, the better. Other examples of exigent circumstances are entering a home without a warrant if police believe a crime is in progress or a person is in danger.
What This Could Mean for You
If police stop you and suspect you of DUI, you have the right to either consent to a blood draw (or breath or urine test) or request that police obtain a warrant first. If you are unconscious when they find you because you were involved in an accident or passed out at some point prior to the blood draw, it may not be a requirement for police to obtain a search warrant to draw your blood to determine your BAC.
This ruling only increases the importance of moving quickly in order to protect your rights and explore your defense options if you face charges for DUI. With all you may have at stake, you may want to avoid going through the process alone. One of your rights is to the representation of an attorney, and you would be wise to take advantage of this right as soon as possible.