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Family and Criminal Law Blog

Monday, August 12, 2019

Supreme Court Rules Police Can Order Blood Tests on Unconscious DUI Suspects

Under what circumstances can a blood test be ordered on a DUI suspect in Texas?

Recently, the United States Supreme Court ruled that police officers can lawfully order blood tests on unconscious DUI suspects. The ruling came as a surprise as it goes in the face of a previous court ruling that declared blood tests on unconscious suspects can only be ordered with a warrant or exigent circumstances. This important case titled Mitchell v. Wisconsin will have an effect on law enforcement departments across the nation as well as DUI defendants in Texas and elsewhere.

Mitchell v. Wisconsin 

In the case of Mitchell v. Wisconsin, police officers received a call that indicated Mitchell had appeared to be highly intoxicated and took off driving a van. Police later uncovered Mitchell wandering near a lake. He showed signs of intoxicated. He then failed a field sobriety breath test by blowing three times the legal limit in the state of Wisconsin. Police transported Mitchell to the police station to be further assessed, but he lost consciousness before making it to the station. 

Officers elected to drive Mitchell to the hospital to undergo a blood test, fearing the suspect’s deteriorating condition. The blood test came in well above the legal limit.  Mitchell challenged this blood test as unconstitutional.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable and warrantless searches and seizures.  Generally, a blood test ordered on an unconscious suspect would be deemed unreasonable, absent exigent circumstances. However, in the case of Mitchell v. Wisconsin, the Supreme Court ruled otherwise. America’s high court found in a 5-4 ruling that the police’s actions should be upheld. Per Wisconsin law, implied consent laws are said to authorize blood draws for any drivers operating a motor vehicle on public roads. Further, the court agreed that the dissipation of alcohol in one’s blood gives rise to exigent circumstances. As such, the court concluded, officer’s should have been authorized to perform the blood draw.

The ruling conflicts with a previous Supreme Court decision that held warrantless blood draws on unconscious DUI suspects are unconstitutional. Texas courts had likewise adopted the opinion that warrantless blood tests on unconscious DUI suspects are only authorized under exigent circumstances. In light of this new ruling, it is possible that Texas law will alter to allow for warrantless blood draws on unconscious suspects, even where no extraordinary exigent circumstances exist. 

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