The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. Consequently, before police officers can search you, your home, office or vehicle they will generally need a warrant which specifically describes the place to be searched and the items which are intended to be seized. Of course, there are some exceptions to the warrant requirement such as a search incident to an arrest, an inventory of a car which is to be towed, etc. However, warrantless search is reasonable and permissible only if authorized by a recognized exception to the warrant requirement.
Medical Blood Draws DUI Cases
Under Arizona law and commonly referred to as the medical blood draw exception, police may obtain a sample of a DUI suspects blood which was originally drawn by hospital personnel for medical purposes. Specifically, A.R.S. 28-1388 provides;
Notwithstanding any other law, if a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that a person has violated § 28- 1381 and a sample of blood, urine or other bodily substance is taken from that person for any reason, a portion of that sample sufficient for analysis shall be provided to a law enforcement officer if requested for law enforcement purposes.
In order to bypass the warrant requirement and allow police to obtain a sample of a DUI suspect's blood from hospital staff, Arizona courts held that an exception to the warrant requirement would be applicable under the following circumstances:
- probable cause exists to believe the person has violated the state's DUI laws
- exigent circumstances are present and,
- the blood is drawn for medical purposes by medical personnel.
Later, the courts determined that a DUI suspect had a right to direct his own medical treatment. Therefore, if he decided against allowing hospital staff to draw his blood or was not in a position to make an intelligent, informed decision then police could not obtain a blood sample from the hospital without a warrant. Additionally, alcohol is commonly known to dissipate in a person's blood stream over time. This was routinely relied upon by law enforcement as an exigent circumstance allowing for police to obtain a sample of blood drawn for medical purposes. Now however, courts have held that the evanescence of alcohol in the bloodstream does not by itself create an exigency which permits a warrantless search. Moreover, an additional restriction was placed upon the ability of police to obtain blood samples drawn in hospital to further their DUI investigation. Specifically, if hospital officials draw a DUI suspects blood for medical purposes before officers request a sample, they must either get the person's consent or obtain a warrant. This is because there is no longer an exigency which might result in the suspects blood sample degrading or becoming contaminated. Simply put, there are now more restrictions on an officers ability to obtain blood samples from DUI suspects that have been transported to a hospital.