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.