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Texas rulings on mandatory blood draws interpret McNeely decision

On April 17, 2013, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion relating to nonconsensual blood draws from drunk-driving suspects.
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    February 05, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- On April 17, 2013, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion relating to nonconsensual blood draws from drunk-driving suspects. In a 5-4 split decision, the majority of the court in Missouri v. McNeely held that courts must consider the totality of the circumstances in determining whether "exigent circumstances" existed to draw the blood without first obtaining a search warrant, and that search warrants are ordinarily required for nonconsensual blood draws in drunk-driving investigations. The McNeely court found that the natural metabolization of alcohol in the blood is not an "exigent circumstance" in every circumstance sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant.

Texas statutory law mandates the drawing of blood from drunk-driving suspects who have refused breath tests where the investigating officer reasonably believes that the suspect was involved in an accident that occurred as a result of the suspect's intoxication, and that, as a direct result of the accident, an individual has died, or will die, or suffered bodily harm that warranted transportation to a medical facility. However, the larger the metropolitan area the less likely the state can meet its burden of exigent circumstances because a warrant can generally be obtained within minutes in heavily-populated areas in Texas, such as Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Fort Worth.

In State v. Baker, the Texas 12th Court of Appeals, Tyler, applied the McNeely ruling in a case involving a nonconsensual blood draw. The court found that the prosecution had failed to show that the warrantless blood draw from the defendant was supported by exigent circumstances where the only evidence presented by the prosecution regarding exigency related to the natural dissipation of alcohol from the suspect's body.

In Douds v. State, the Texas 14th Court of Appeals, Houston, also reviewed the requirements of the McNeely ruling. In a divided 2-1 decision, the majority opinion upheld a constitutional challenge to a warrantless blood draw from the defendant. The majority cited the McNeely ruling, but found that the defendant's Fourth Amendment rights were not violated under the specific circumstances of the case.

The majority noted that time had to be taken by the arresting officer to investigate the scene of a two-car accident and to determine the need for medical treatment, and that at least 57 minutes elapsed from the time the officer and the defendant arrived at the police station for the blood draw. The majority concluded that in this instance, obtaining a warrant was impractical and the warrantless blood test was constitutional.

The dissenting opinion disagreed, concluding that under these same facts the record indicated that the state had not carried its burden to prove exigent circumstances justifying an exception to the warrant requirement under McNeely. The dissent noted an absence of proof by the prosecution regarding the following:

- That obtaining a warrant would have further delayed the blood draw.
- Any technologies or procedures available to the police to expedite the warrant application process.
- That another officer could not have secured the warrant while the arresting officer transported the defendant to the police station and later to the medical center (three officers as well as EMS personnel were present at the accident scene).
- Even if there had been evidence of a delay in obtaining a warrant, there was no evidence that the delay was long enough to undermine the probative value of the blood test results significantly, given the predictable rate at which blood alcohol evidence dissipates from the bloodstream.

Individuals who are faced with a drunk-driving charge should seek the advice and assistance of a competent attorney experienced in defending these matters to ensure that their rights are protected.

Article provided by Law Offices of Randall B. Isenberg
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