US Supreme Court Confirms DUI Defense against Warrantless Blood Tests

- Lotze Mosley

The United States Supreme Court recently rendered a decision requiring search warrants before administering blood tests in connection with DUI defense cases. The ruling is expected to affect states with ‘implied consent’ laws that punish motorists who refuse to submit to blood draws incident to DUI arrests.

Washington, D.C. has a similar implied consent law. If you or a loved one is charged with drunk driving, you may refuse a blood test and raise the DUI defense of a warrantless blood test if you have been compelled to take one.

DUI Defenses of Three Petitioners

The petition before the high court stemmed from three separate cases involving drivers who were arrested on DUI charges.

One of the petitioners was arrested by an officer who advised him that it is his obligation under North Dakota state law to undergo blood alcohol content testing. He also informed the petitioner that his refusal to submit to a blood test could lead to criminal punishment. The petitioner refused the blood draw and was charged with a misdemeanor violation for his refusal.

The local district court convicted the petitioner and the state supreme court affirmed this decision.

The second petitioner was stopped for suspected drunk driving and informed of his duty to take a breath test which the petitioner refused. He was charged with test refusal in the first degree.

The Minnesota court dismissed the charge, ruling that the warrantless breath test was a violation of the Fourth Amendment. This was reversed on appeal, and confirmed by the state Supreme Court.

In the situation of the third petitioner, the arresting officer brought him to a nearby hospital and read him the implied consent advisory as in the other cases and further informed him that a refusal to have his blood drawn for testing was a crime in itself. The third petitioner submitted to a blood draw based on the advisory and was found to have a BAC level three times higher than the state’s legal limit. His driver’s license was suspended after an administrative hearing.

On appeal, the state district court rejected the petitioner’s argument that he was coerced into submitting to a warrantless blood test by the arresting officer’s warning. The state supreme court also affirmed the lower court’s decision.

Blood Test VS Breath Test

The United States Supreme Court ruled that breath tests are generally allowed under the Fourth Amendment because they do not ‘require piercing the skin’ and ‘curtail a minimum of inconvenience.’ Blood tests, on the other hand, require piercing of the skin and are more invasive than blowing into a tube. Thus, a breath test may be conducted without a warrant as a search incident to an arrest for drunk driving. But a blood test requires a warrant and the accused may not be coerced by warnings of criminal punishment for refusing to submit to one.

In Washington, D.C., the law firm of Lotze Mosley, LLP has years of criminal law experience, helping clients charged with DUI/OWI raise DUI/OWI defenses. Call us at (202) 393-0535 to speak to one of our approachable attorneys about your situation.