If you are lawfully arrested for driving under the influence in Rhode Island, one of the chemical tests you have implicitly given your consent to be subjected to is a blood draw. Generally, before an officer can direct you to take the test, and before an authorized individual can proceed, the officer must have obtained a warrant.
In this blog, we'll discuss why police need a warrant to conduct a blood draw and a possible exception to this requirement.
The Fourth Amendment Right
The reason police must have a warrant before subjecting you – or anyone else – to a blood draw is because it is considered a search of your person. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects all people in this country from unreasonable searches and seizures. Law enforcement officials cannot just search a person or their property on a whim. They must have legal permission (in the form of a warrant) to do so. The warrant serves to show that officials have a justifiable reason to look for evidence of an alleged crime.
In a DUI case, evidence can include your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). One of the elements of Rhode Island's DUI law (R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-27-2) is driving or operating a vehicle with a BAC of .08 or higher. A blood draw is used to measure how much alcohol was in a driver's body at the time of the offense.
Rhode Island Gen. Laws § 31-27-2.9 specifically states that a chemical test, including a blood draw, can be administered so long as the officer has obtained a search warrant. After the officer has received a valid warrant, a physician, nurse, or medical technician can proceed with the blood draw even if you refuse to be subjected to it.
In addition to Rhode Island law requiring a warrant to conduct a blood test, the U.S. Supreme Court also held, by a 5-4 vote, in Missouri v. McNeely that such is needed in DUI cases. The justices stated that blood draws are invasive procedures, and administering them without a warrant constituted a violation of a person's constitutional rights.
An Exception to the Warrant Requirement
Although a warrant is usually required to search a person or their property, exceptions exist. One such is the exigency exception. Essentially, this doctrine provides that if evidence could be lost or destroyed before an officer has time to get a warrant, conducting a warrantless search may be justified.
In terms of DUI cases, the exigency exception may apply when the driver was unconscious and there was no other way (besides a blood test) to determine the person's BAC level. In Mitchell v. Wisconsin, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a DUI involving an unconscious driver presented an exigent circumstance in which a warrantless blood draw could be conducted.
Warrantless Blood Draw and Suppression of Evidence
If you were subject to a warrantless blood draw and no exception existed that justified such a violation of your rights, you may be able to file a motion to have the test results suppressed. If the court grans your request, the State would not be able to use the evidence against you in court.
To understand your rights and legal options in your DUI case, speak with a skilled attorney. They can review everything that happened from the arrest to the administering of the chemical test to determine whether or not procedural errors violated constitutional protections.