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Tuesday, March 19 , 2019, 11:39 pm | A Few Clouds 50º


Supreme Court Case Ends Forced Blood Draws for DUI Cases Without a Warrant

Santa Barbara police talk about the local implications of the ruling

Police can no longer force driving-under-the-influence suspects to give a blood sample, unless they have a search warrant, according to a U.S. Supreme Court decision issued last week.

“From a practical standpoint, it probably won’t impact us too much; forced draws are only done in a very small percentage of our investigations to begin with,” Santa Barbara police Sgt. Riley Harwood said.

The Santa Barbara Police Department and other agencies can do forced blood draws only in felony DUI cases with a search warrant, whereas local police used to do forced blood draws for both misdemeanor and DUI cases without one.

Missouri v. McNeely was a case regarding a man stopped for speeding and crossing the center line by a Missouri police officer. McNeely refused to take a breath test and was taken to a nearby hospital for blood testing, according to the Supreme Court decision.

The officer never attempted to get a search warrant and McNeely refused consent, but the officer directed the lab technician to take a sample anyway. The blood alcohol content “tested well above the legal limit, and he was charged with driving while intoxicated. He moved to suppress the blood test result, arguing that taking his blood without a warrant violated his Fourth Amendment rights.”

The trial court agreed, and the state Supreme Court affirmed, citing a California case — Schmerber v. California — and said the exception to the warrant requirement didn’t apply because, “apart from the fact that McNeely’s blood alcohol was dissipating, no circumstances suggested that the officer faced an emergency.”

The Supreme Court, with part of the opinion written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, determined that, in drunken-driving investigations, “the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant.”

“Forcing” doesn’t usually mean physically forcing someone — some people would verbally state their objection and then more or less comply, Harwood said — but if someone refused, police “would, in the presence of a supervisor at the County Jail, hold them down on a mat and hold them still while the blood nurse obtained the sample.”

During peak DUI arrest hours — Fridays and Saturday nights — there is a nurse at the Santa Barbara County Jail to do blood draws. Other times, police take suspects to the emergency room at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, Harwood said.

California Vehicle Code Section 23612 (a) states that anyone driving a motor vehicle is deemed to have given consent to a chemical test of their blood or breath for the purpose of determining blood alcohol content, and the Department of Motor Vehicles can issue fines and suspend someone’s license for a year if they refuse. It’s called “implied consent for chemical testing.”

In California, law enforcement can only get search warrants for felony crimes, though there are exceptions for misdemeanor child sex abuse crimes, Harwood said. So, in order to get search warrants for misdemeanor DUI cases, the California Penal Code Section 1524 would have to be changed.

DUIs rise to the felony level typically when they result in injury or the alleged offender has prior, related offenses, Harwood said.

The McNeely ruling has no effect on the breath test or implied consent law, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Kelly Scott.

“The implied consent law provides enhanced penalties for any driver who refuses to submit to a chemical test (blood or breath), and prosecutors can use the fact of refusal as consciousness of guilt,” Scott said. “There are relatively few forced blood draws in Santa Barbara County (most consent to a blood draw or other chemical sample), and we do not anticipate any significant issues arising from the court’s ruling.”

There have always been on-call deputy district attorneys who help law enforcement officers and on-call judges available to review and sign warrants after-hours, she added.

“In those cases where a search warrant might be required and legally justified, we will be available to assist law enforcement in presenting those warrants to the judges,” Scott said.

The ruling isn’t retroactive, so authorities don’t expect any impact on the validity of prior convictions.

Harwood speculated that “there may be some occasions now where officers arrest or cite violators for California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a), driving under the influence of alcohol, where in the past they might have arrested or cited for CVC 23152(b), driving with 0.08 percent or more blood alcohol content.”

With a DUI arrest, he added, officers have to articulate the objective symptoms, while, with a BAC over .08 percent, the law assumes the person is impaired.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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