supreme-court According to a recent news report, the Supreme Court has refused a request from Colorado prosecutors to reconsider using warrantless blood draws as evidence in DUI cases. At the heart of the request was The People of the State of Colorado v Jack Lee Schaufele case.
A look at the case
In 2012, 54-year old Jack Schaufele was involved in a car crash where his Ford SUV collided with a Honda Accord and injured the driver. Schaufele was found disoriented at the scene, which officers determined could either be intoxication or the effect of being hit by the air bag. When Schaufele arrived at the hospital, another officer smelled alcohol on his breath, and tried to talk to Schaufele about a blood draw, but was unsuccessful as the man was unconscious. The officer did not obtain a warrant, and after about an hour following the accident, Schaufele’s blood was drawn. He was subsequently slapped with four counts of DUI, including driving under the influence of alcohol and vehicular assault. Schaufele pleaded not guilty to all four.
A state judge excluded the results of the test at trial as the officer had attempted to get Schaufele’s BAC checked without obtaining a search warrant. The Colorado Supreme Court upheld the decision, which saw prosecutors refer the case to the U.S Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court has now upheld the suppression of Schaufele’s blood draw taken without a warrant. Most of the justices dismissed arguments that the rapid metabolism of alcohol by the body necessitates a blood alcohol test by bypassing the requirement to obtain a warrant.
Among the few dissenting opinions was one by Chief Justice Roberts who proposed that if an officer can reasonably determine that there isn’t enough time to secure a warrant, the officer is justified in getting a blood alcohol test without one. He drew an analogy between the decreasing levels of alcohol in the blood stream and the manner in which a fire spreads gradually, implying that it does not lessen the right or need of officers to take immediate action.
Implications for DUI Enforcement
The Supreme Court’s decision means that blood tests taken without a warrant will continue to be excluded from trials. Last year, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that implied consent was not sufficient to justify warrantless blood draws. According to the implied consent law, if you are arrested by an officer who has probable cause to believe that you have been driving under the influence of alcohol, then you must consent to take a test to determine your BAC. The Texas Supreme Court has also dismissed a state law permitting law enforcement to collect blood from suspected drunk drivers who refuse to be tested.