In 2012, a Colorado driver was involved in an accident that was determined
to be related to being under the influence. After being taken to a hospital
to check for injury, the driver became unconscious and law enforcement
ordered that a blood sample be taken to check their blood alcohol content,
showing it to be over three times the legal limit.
As a result of this information, the driver was charged with driving under
the influence. In court, the BAC reading and blood sample were excluded
from evidence. Why? According to the judge, without a warrant, the blood
draw was in violation of the driver’s Fourth Amendment right against
unreasonable search and seizure.
How does the Fourth Amendment apply?
The Fourth Amendment protects a person and their property from being violated
through a search and seizure unless a reasonable level of probable cause
exists. If law enforcement wants to perform a search and seizure, they
must get a warrant from a judge. When it comes to searching a person themselves,
it must be done with a warrant unless there was unusual conduct that suggests
some criminal activity may exist.
The judge’s decision not to use the blood sample was appealed to
the Colorado Supreme Court, stating that the longer the driver was unconscious,
the more the alcohol would have dissipated in their system, proving the
need for the warrantless blood draw. The Colorado Supreme Court upheld
the decision to exclude that evidence due to the illegal nature of its
acquisition. As the prosecution did not agree with this decision, the
legality of the blood draw was brought to the United States Supreme Court.
Under the Supreme Court Case
Missouri v. McNeely, it has been outlined that
a blood draw is protected under the Fourth Amendment and forcible blood draws must receive a warrant before they are valid.
Since this had been decided during this case, the United States Supreme
Court has upheld the standard that warrantless blood draws remain illegal.