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Justices Rule on Forced Blood Samples


The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the police must normally obtain a search warrant before taking a blood sample from a DUI suspect without consent. In an 8-1 decision, the Justices said that the 4th Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures mandated that the police usually need a warrant from a magistrate before invading a person's privacy by forcing a blood test.

However, the Justices indicated that in some circumstances the police may not need to wait for a warrant, for example, if the officer finds it difficult to get hold of a magistrate late at night in a rural area. If exigent circumstances exist, the police may still be able to justify a warrantless blood draw without the suspect's consent. These emergencies should be the exception rather than the rule.

The decision does not effect the vast majority of DUI cases in California. Most DUI suspects follow the “implied consent” law that requires a person lawfully arrested for a DUI to consent to a breath or blood test. In most jurisdictions, if a person refused to submit to a test, that person was simply charged with DUI with a “refusal enhancement”. A forced blood test was never the norm. Only in isolated jurisdictions did the police in Southern California take a blood test using force. Irvine Police Department was an isolated example.

A refusal to submit to a test will no longer result in the police taking forced blood tests. A refusal to provide a breath or blood test typically leads to a one year license suspension from the DMV and may lead to enhanced penalties in court including a longer alcohol education program and jail time. However, a refusal may also make it easier to defend the case if the rest of the evidence, including the driving pattern and performance of field sobriety tests is not bad. If you have been arrested for a DUI in Los Angeles, please call a Los Angeles DUI defense attorney at Gold & Witham.