Warrantless Blood Draws on Unconscious Suspects and the Fourth Amendment

Posted by Josh Valentine | Mar 21, 2019

The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari to review whether or not a warrantless blood draw from an unconscious person is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.  Police must obtain a warrant to conduct most searches, including that of a person's home or vehicle unless an exception to the warrant requirement applies. 

Wisconsin police officers stopped Gerald Mitchell after receiving reports about a suspected drunken driver in Sheboygan County. A breath test revealed that Mitchell had a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.24, three times the legal limit. He was arrested and taken to a local hospital where he fell unconscious before police could obtain consent to take a blood sample. He was later convicted of driving while intoxicated, and Mitchell appealed his conviction.

Implied Consent Laws and Warrantless Blood Draws

The state argued that police had probable cause to take the sample because police reasonably believed that Mitchell was driving while intoxicated. The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the conviction, finding that pursuant to the state's implied consent laws, Mitchell had consented to testing of his breath, blood, or urine by driving within the state. 

The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether or not Mitchell's case should be overturned because the state law that allows police to obtain a blood sample from an unconscious person is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Twenty-nine states have similar laws which grant police authority to take blood from a person pursuant to state implied consent laws. 

The case is part of a national controversy on the legality of warrantless blood draws. The U.S. Supreme Court previously held in Birchfield v. North Dakota that states cannot penalize DWI suspects with criminal penalties for refusal to allow law enforcement to obtain a blood sample without consent or a warrant. After this ruling in 2016, states changed their implied consent laws that required suspected drivers to submit to blood testing or face criminal charges. 

Know and Assert Your Rights

Generally, searches conducted by law enforcement without valid consent or a warrant are illegal. You can say no to a search of your person or vehicle unless an exception to the warrant requirement applies, such as the threat that evidence will be imminently destroyed. In McNealy v. Missouri, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that natural dissipation of alcohol in the blood is not enough to constitute an "exigent circumstance" that would justify a warrantless blood draw. 

It is still unclear whether or not the blood draw of the driver, in this case, violated the Fourth Amendment. Our attorneys are actively monitoring this case, as the Supreme Court's ruling could have a major impact on DWI laws across the country. 

Consult an Experienced DWI Lawyer in North Carolina 

Have you been charged with a DWI? Contact an attorney right away. The experienced criminal defense lawyers at Caulder & Valentine Law Firm, PLLC can review the evidence in your case and help you prepare a strong defense. Our attorneys stay up-to-date on changes in the law that could help you win your case. Contact us online or call (704) 470-2440 to schedule a consultation. 

About the Author

Josh Valentine

You could say Josh has a God-given ability for sustaining long-term relationships. He and his wife first met in elementary school and went to Gardner Webb University (GWU) together, where they tied for number 1 in their class. Then, they both started law school on the same day of their graduation and got married during their first semester. He has also known his law partner Blake Caulder since Kindergarten. Theirs is the perfect partnership. “He’s the brake; I am the accelerator,” Josh says. Both Josh and his wife attended an innovative program at Charlotte Law School that allowed them to complete law school in two years instead of the typical three. His wife graduated and passed the North Carolina bar at age 20, becoming one of the youngest attorneys in the state. He readily admits she’s smarter than him. Of course, Josh went on to pass the North Carolina State Bar himself and later the South Carolina State Bar. While in school, he was Associate Editor of the Law Review and received accolades like Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society membership, Order of the Crown, Pro Bono Honors, CALI Awards (highest grade). In his career as a lawyer, he has been admitted to the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, is a member of the American Association of Premier DUI Attorneys, and completed training for DWI Detection & Standardized Field Sobriety Testing. Josh has also been named to the Top 40 Under 40 for Criminal Defense by The National Trial Lawyers, the Business North Carolina 2019 Legal Elite for Criminal Defense, and the 10 Best Attorneys for Client Satisfaction by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys three years in a row (2016, 2017, and 2018). Community involvement has been important to Josh all his life. In high school, he participated in building a Holocaust museum that has become internationally regarded. He and his wife are actively engaged in animal rescue, which currently means seven cats and two kittens. He served in prison ministry and assisted with fundraiser banquets there, and he provides pro bono and reduced fee legal services to those in need. As if all of that weren’t enough, Josh also mentors high risk youth and helps with his church’s youth group. He participates in other community volunteer projects involving construction, remodeling, drywall, painting, and landscaping. He’s an active student of the Bible and has traveled to Israel, Brazil, and Europe for mission work. No one can say Josh isn’t a well-rounded individual. In his spare time, he likes to play softball, basketball, and tennis, and he can play the piano and trombone. Sometimes on weekends, believe it or not, he enjoys pouring and finishing concrete with friends who own a concrete and grading business. In his law practice, Josh has made it a point to develop positive relationships with officers, clerks, and district attorneys, which has proven invaluable in delivering positive results for his clients. It’s important to him to both listen to his clients and fight for them. Law enforcement officers have important responsibilities to keep our communities safe and uphold the law, but one of the responsibilities of attorneys is to make sure officers do their job correctly. Josh considers it his job to hold them accountable for their actions. Josh is a person of deep faith. He knows that the established order of our universe and strength of America’s Judeo-Christian influenced court system is built on God’s word. His passion to serve each client with innovation, excellence and integrity is a byproduct of his faith. When asked why he became a lawyer, Josh says, “All through my life, I have personally witnessed family members and very close friends endure divorce, child custody battles, bankruptcy, civil lawsuits, and even fraudulent criminal accusations. I both saw and experienced the stress such events can place on an individual, and I realized that everyone, at some point in their life, needs hope, comfort, and encouragement. In each one of those situations, the person who was best situated to provide that vital support was their lawyer. So that’s why I became an attorney. I understand what you are going through, and I’m here to help you. Our office is focused on meeting your needs and guiding you through what may be the most difficult time of your life.” Education: Charlotte School of Law J.D., Magna Cum Laude Class Rank – 21 of 328 Associate Editor of Charlotte School of Law Law Review Certification and Concentration in Employment Law Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society Order of the Crown Pro Bono Honors CALI Awards (Highest Grade)—Lawyering Process I and Contracts I Full Scholarship Gardner-Webb University B.S. in Accounting, Summa Cum Laude Distinguished Senior Student Award – Highest GPA Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honorary Society Bar Admissions: North Carolina State Bar