D.U.I. Arrests and Warrantless Blood Draws

By now you have seen the July 26th body camera video from a South Lake Police officers in an emergency room at a Utah hospital. The officer wanted blood drawn from an unconscious patient who was struck by a vehicle driven by a suspect fleeing police. Blood draws are a routine part of accident investigations even if the driver is not suspected of any wrongdoing. But, a nurse, Alex Wubbels, refused to allow the procedure, because the police did not have a warrant and the patient had not given consent. Instead, nurse Wubbels calmly explained to the officer the hospitals policy, even reading it directly from a procedures manual, and why drawing the patient’s blood would violate that policy. What occurs next is shocking. The police officer forcibly arrests nurse Wubbels and drags her screaming from the hospital and handcuffs her outside before placing her in his cruiser.

The nurse was later released and not charged with any crime. The officer involved was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into the incident. The Salt Lake City Police Department and the hospital have taken steps to ensure similar incidents will not occur. The officer will most likely be sued and could face criminal charges.

The incident has left many people wondering when do police officers have the right to conduct breath and blood tests? Just last year, the United States Supreme Court, in a case called Birchfield v. North Dakota, addressed the very issue of warrantless breath and blood draws, most commonly used to determine the blood alcohol levels of those arrested for drunk driving. In Birchfield, the Court held that administering a breathalyzer or taking blood samples are both considered searches and trigger some level of Fourth Amendment concern. However, the Court held the Fourth Amendment permits warrantless breath tests incident to arrests for drunk driving but not warrantless blood tests.

In light of Birchfield, the Utah police officer had no authority to demand nurse Wubbels draw blood from the unconscious patient without first obtaining a warrant. The officer must have known his demands to and arrest of the nurse were unlawful all of which makes his conduct even more egregious and maybe even criminal.

Applying Birchfield to Ohio D.U.I. law, law enforcement has the right to conduct warrantless breath tests but not blood tests to those arrested for drunk driving. If stopped for D.U.I./O.M.V.I., you have the right to refuse a breath test, and most importantly, the request for blood or urine. These issues become extremely important when law enforcement suspects drivers are impaired not because of alcohol consumption but due to drugs of abuse like marijuana. Because the breathalyzer does not detect marijuana, law enforcement may want a blood sample from a suspect but cannot force those suspected of “driving high” to give said sample without a warrant. This makes impaired cases involving marijuana and other drugs of abuse more difficult to prove.

 

If you have a question regarding a D.U.I./D.W.I. matter, then do not hesitate contacting attorney Joe Edwards at 614-309-0243.

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