Supreme Court rules police can draw blood from unconscious drivers

Updated: Jul. 1, 2019 at 11:25 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Last Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers may order blood drawn, without a warrant, from an unconscious person suspected of driving under the influence.

“If you read the case, you get to the opinion really quickly that this should only apply to a very narrow group of cases, in that being an unconscious person,” Adam Johnson, and attorney with the Johnson Law Firm said. “But in defining that standard, they use broader language that doesn’t limit it to just unconscious. I don’t think it’s going to change much, but it certainly is a big difference in Birchfield, which found that you’re going to need a warrant if you’re going to take blood. Whereas before with Birchfield, or just recent precedent, that you have to get a warrant. They’ve now said no for these specific cases that you don’t need a warrant anymore and I think in general, that’s where the slippery slope starts.”

In 2013, the Supreme Court heard the Birchfield v. North Dakota case, where they ruled that police violated the Constitution when they ordered a non-consensual blood draw without a warrant in a routine DUI case. The vote was 5-4, but Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy were on the court at that time.

This year, in a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court upheld a Wisconsin law that says people driving on a public road have implied consent to having their blood drawn if police suspect them of driving under the influence. Johnson says this ruling could set a dangerous precedent.

“Any time you are lowering the requirements for a warrant, then you’re decreasing constitutional safeguards, so that’s just something you need to pay attention to,” Johnson said. “What you don’t think about is there are sometimes people that get into accidents that weren’t even their fault. They didn’t do anything wrong under the circumstances, but they are injured and are passed out, so will the police officer take that persons blood? Will that person wake up with a DWI charge the next day because they had a small amount of hydrocodone in their system? Even though the accident wasn’t their fault? They had a prescription for the hydrocodone. That’s the sort of situation you have to look at go this is going to affect innocent and guilty people alike. That’s what the law does. It’s objective. It doesn’t just punish guilty people, sometimes it punishes innocent people too.”

According to Trooper Derek Senegal with Louisiana State Police, Louisiana has a similar ‘implied consent’ law.

“If they are unconscious, of course there is the potential where the alcohol in the blood just metabolizes and we can no longer get that evidence," Senegal said. "Then we will go ahead and push for that implied consent, that warrant less search, but probable cause, if we have time, we are going to get all of those, everything lined up, so we don’t violate anyone’s rights.”

Because Senegal says it’s relatively easy to get such a warrant as officers are able to send to be signed electronically, he says state police will continue to encourage Troopers to get a warrant.

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