Exigent Circumstances for a Warrantless Blood Draw
In felony DUI cases, including the DUI manslaughter case, the defense will file a motion to suppress the blood draw when it is taken without a warrant, consent, or exigent circumstances. This article focused on when exigent circumstances allowed a forced blood draw.
In Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U.S. 141, 152 (2013), the United States Supreme Court sets forth a clear rule:
“In those drunk-driving investigations where police officers can reasonably obtain a warrant before a blood sample can be drawn without significantly undermining the efficacy of the search, the Fourth Amendment mandates that they do so.”
In State v. Liles, 191 So. 3d 484, 486 (Fla. 5th DCA 2016), the court confirmed that McNeely and earlier federal and Florida cases made it clear, “[t]o comply with the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement officers must obtain a warrant or consent for a blood draw, or there must be some other exception to the warrant requirement.”
One such exception to the warrant requirement is “when the exigencies of the situation make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that a warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” McNeely, 569 U.S. 6 at 148–49 (internal quotation marks omitted).
Attorney for DUI Blood Draw Cases in Florida
The attorneys at Sammis Law Firm represent clients in Felony DUI cases, including DUI manslaughter cases. If a law enforcement officer caused legal blood to be taken without a warrant or consent, they would often rely on the exigent circumstances exception.
We can file and litigate a motion to suppress the forced blood draw and show why the state cannot meet its burden in showing exigent circumstances existed.
Motions to Suppress a Forced Blood Draw with No Exigent Circumstances
At the motion hearing, the court will consider whether a crash occurred, the injuries from the crash, the number of law enforcement officers that arrived, and decisions made by those law enforcement officers, including any traffic homicide investigator.
The court will consider when the officers became aware that a forensic blood draw would be required and whether officers made attempts to contact the on-call assistant State Attorney or find out which judge might be available to secure a warrant.
The court will consider how much longer the blood draw would have been delayed had the officers waited for a search warrant that would have authorized the blood draw.
If the suspect does not give consent for the blood draw, the officers might force the blood draw under Section 316.1933(1)(a), Florida Statutes (2013). Section 316.1933(1)(a), provides:
If a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that a motor vehicle driven by . . . a person under the influence of alcoholic beverages [or] any chemical substances . . . has caused the death or serious bodily injury of a human being, a law enforcement officer shall require the person driving . . . the motor vehicle to submit to a test of the person’s blood for the purpose of determining the alcoholic content thereof or the presence of chemical substances . . . . The law enforcement officer may use reasonable force if necessary to require such person to submit to the administration of the blood test. The blood test shall be performed in a reasonable manner.
It is the State’s burden to prove that the exigent circumstances exception applies by clear and convincing evidence. Liles, 191 So. 3d at 486.
The courts have rejected arguments that, categorically, all drunk driving investigations involve per se exigencies because the body’s natural metabolization of alcohol results in the loss of critical evidence simply with the passage of time. McNeely, 569 U.S. at 146, 156. Instead, McNeely recognized that “exigent circumstances justifying a warrantless blood sample may arise in the regular course of law enforcement due to delays from the warrant application process.” Id. at 156.
However, the Supreme Court held that “[w]hether a warrantless blood test of a drunk driving suspect is reasonable must be determined case by case based on the totality of the circumstances.” Id.
In McNeely, the Supreme Court gave a helpful example of when exigent circumstances are not present in a drunk-driving investigation:
“Consider for example, a situation in which the warrant process will not significantly increase the delay before the blood test is conducted because an officer can take steps to secure a warrant while the suspect is being transported to a medical facility by another officer. In such a circumstance, there would be no plausible justification for an exception to the warrant requirement.”
McNeely, 569 U.S. at 153–54.
Cases Finding Exigent Circumstances for a Forced Blood Draw
In Goodman v. State, 229 So.3d 366 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017), exigent circumstances permitted a warrantless blood draw from the defendant when the evidence showed the defendant absented himself from the scene for over an hour.
The defendant then returned but went to the hospital for treatment of his own injuries before investigators found the victim’s vehicle and body in canal. By the time the homicide investigator arrived and went to the hospital, nearly four hours had passed since the time of the crash. The investigator testified that obtaining a search warrant would have taken an additional two hours.
In Aguilar v. State, 239 So.3d 108 (Fla. 3d DCA 2018), the court found exigent circumstances existed to justify a warrantless blood test after the defendant was involved in a multi-vehicle accident that resulted in the death of one person at the scene and serious bodily injury to two others. The accident occurred at the scene of a prior accident, further complicating the accident scene investigation. The defendant himself was seriously injured, taken to hospital for treatment, induced into a coma, and intubated. At the accident scene and later at the hospital, the defendant smelled of alcohol and exhibited symptoms consistent with drunkenness. A blood sample was taken about 90 minutes after the accident. Witnesses testified that the warrant would have taken at least four hours to obtain from the time the process began.
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