Texas Court Rules Warrantless Blood Draws Are Unconstitutional
Law allowing police to draw blood without warrant violates Fourth Amendment
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that a state law allowing police officers to draw blood samples from suspected drunk drivers without first obtaining a warrant is unconstitutional, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The ruling, according to analysts, somewhat weakens Texas’ strict and controversial “no refusal” DWI laws. Critics of the laws have long claimed they violate the constitutional rights of DUI defendants, but, despite the ruling, no-refusal DWI stops will continue in the state, albeit in a modified form.
Warrantless blood draw
The case began with a traffic stop in Nueces County in 2012 when an officer had pulled over a driver for a traffic violation. After suspecting the driver of being impaired, the officer asked him to perform a field sobriety test, which the driver refused to do. Following his refusal, the officer took the man to a hospital in order to obtain a blood sample.
The driver did not consent to the blood draw nor did the officer have a warrant for drawing the suspect’s blood. According to the Houston Chronicle, the officer cited a state law that required police take a breath or blood sample of any driver who had already been convicted of DWI at least two times in the past.
Fourth Amendment rights
Had he been convicted, the defendant could have faced over 25 years in prison. He argued, however, that the blood sample obtained by the officer should not be admissible in court. A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, cited by the defendant, had found that withdrawing a suspect’s blood without a warrant was unconstitutional since it violated the suspect’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. The Texas court agreed with the defendant and ruled that Texas’ warrantless blood-draw law was unconstitutional.
The ruling, while limiting the ability of police to conduct warrantless searches, does not end Texas’ controversial no-refusal DWI stops. Police can still perform blood draws, but they will need a warrant from a judge in order to do so. Furthermore, even for the defendant in the above case the court’s ruling does not end his ordeal. Instead, according to his attorney, the state will still be able to pursue charges against the man, but the court will no longer be able to consider the evidence obtained from the blood sample.
Texas has some of the toughest laws against drunk driving in the country. People convicted of DWI face fines, license suspensions, and, especially for repeat offenders, lengthy prison sentences. Such harsh penalties can destroy a person’s life and reputation and make it almost impossible for him or her to earn a living.
In light of these strict laws, DWI defendants need to contact a criminal defense attorney right away. An attorney who has an in-depth knowledge and experience of the state’s DWI laws is in the best position to defend a client’s rights and interests when faced with a criminal charge.