Supreme Court Rules Police Can Order Blood Drawn from Unconscious DWI Suspects

At the end of July, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote that law enforcement may order blood drawn from an unconscious DWI suspect—even without a warrant.

Although the Fourth Amendment requires police officers to obtain a warrant to draw a person’s blood, the court upheld a Wisconsin law, which states motorists on public roadways automatically implied consent to a blood draw if law enforcement suspects them of intoxicated driving. Additionally, the court said that “exigent circumstances” allow officers to do so without a warrant.

However, previous court rulings—that said drawing blood from an unconscious individual is a substantial bodily intrusion into someone’s privacy—differ from the recent decision. For example, the Supreme Court ruled in the 2013 DWI case that the police violated the defendant’s constitutional rights for ordering a nonconsensual blood draw without a warrant.

The Supreme Court accepted the

case, Mitchell v. Wisconsin, at the beginning of the year.

The police found Gerald Mitchell near Lake Michigan after receiving a report from his neighbor, who watched Mitchell drive off in his van and told authorities that he was suicidal and intoxicated. When the officers drove Mitchell to the hospital for a blood draw, he passed out in the car and was unresponsive when he reached the hospital.

Despite being unconscious, the officers ordered medical staff to draw a sample of Mitchell’s blood. After the results showed his BAC was .222 percent, he was subsequently charged and convicted of DWI.

After losing in Wisconsin state courts, the Supreme Court granted Mitchell’s appeal to contend the unconscious blood draw violated his constitutional rights. However, the concurring justices agreed since alcohol in a person’s blood will dissipate over time, states can invoke the “exigent-circumstances doctrine” to permit law enforcement to draw blood without a warrant.

While this ruling directly affects Wisconsin, it is still to be determined in other states.

In October 2016, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld a state appeals court decision that administering a blood or urine test without a warrant is unconstitutional.

For more information about the Fourth Amendment, contact Brockton D. Hunter P.A. today at (612) 979-1112.