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.