SCOTUS Issues Case Discussing Police Officers’ Ability to Take the Blood of Unconscious New York Motorists

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. Courts have long held that to be considered “reasonable”, a search must be supported by the issuance of a valid search warrant. To obtain a warrant, police must fill out an affidavit explaining the basis for their belief that the search is necessary, and present the affidavit to a magistrate, who makes the legal determination if the warrant is justified. Recently, the U.S Supreme Court issued an opinion in a case that may impact when police officers are permitted to take blood when they suspect someone is violating New York DUI laws.

While a warrant is necessary for most searches, there are a number of exceptions to the search warrant requirement. These include:

  • The plain view doctrine;
  • When an officer obtains consent;
  • Searches incident to a valid arrest; and
  • The presence of exigent circumstances.

The Court’s decision involves the question of whether exigent circumstances exist to draw the blood of an unconscious motorist who is suspected of having driven while under the influence. According to the Court’s opinion, the defendant was arrested under suspicion of DUI. Police administered a preliminary blood-alcohol test at the scene, and then brought the defendant into the station for a more sophisticated test. However, the defendant was too lethargic to complete the breath test, and the officers decided to transport the defendant to the hospital for a blood draw.

By the time the defendant arrived at the hospital, he was unconscious. Nonetheless, the officers instructed hospital staff to draw the defendant’s blood. The results indicated that the defendant’s blood-alcohol content was over the legal limit, and he was charged with DUI.

In a pre-trial motion to suppress, the defendant argued that the results of the blood test should be suppressed because they were obtained without a search warrant. The court rejected the defendant’s argument, and he was convicted. The defendant appealed up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court did not deliver a binding majority opinion because five Justices could not agree on both the result and the proper rule that should be applied. The Justices’ opinions broke down as follows:

  • Four Justices held that, in most cases, exigent circumstances support a warrantless blood draw of an unconscious motorist.
  • One Justice held that there is always exigent circumstances to draw a motorist’s blood, whether they are conscious or unconscious.
  • One Justice dissented, arguing that the case should not have been heard by the Court.
  • Three Justices dissented arguing that the police had the opportunity to obtain a warrant and should have done so.

In the end, the Court’s plurality opinion did not result in a new rule of law. However, it does show how the Court is likely to consider future cases.

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If you have recently been arrested for a New York DWI, contact the dedicated New York DUI defense attorneys at the law firm of Tilem & Associates. At Tilem & Associates, we represent individuals who are charged with all types of New York crimes, including all types of DWI offenses. To learn more about how we can help you defend against the charges you face, call 877-377-8666 to schedule a free consultation today.

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