Court Discusses “Medical Draw Exception” to Warrant Requirement in Recent Arizona DUI Case

In a recent opinion, an Arizona state court discussed the “medical draw exception” to the general requirement that police obtain a search warrant before taking the blood of someone they suspect to be under the influence. The case offered the court the opportunity to clarify the narrow set of circumstances under which the exception applies.

The Facts of the Case

A witness happened upon a vehicle that had crashed into a business’ entry gate. The witness saw the defendant turn off the engine and then slump over the wheel. The witness called 911, and the fire department came to assist the defendant.

The fire department personnel found the defendant unconscious, with no visible trauma, behind the wheel. They removed the defendant and took him to the hospital, where several tests were conducted, and again, no visible trauma was noted. The defendant was hooked up to a ventilator while doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with him. Hospital staff took the defendant’s blood for medical purposes and securely stored it. A nurse noted that the defendant’s breath smelled of alcohol.

Police, having heard the nurse’s observation that the defendant smelled of alcohol, retrieved a tube of the defendant’s blood and tested it. The defendant was then charged with DUI.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the blood evidence, arguing that the police seized his blood without a warrant or his consent. The trial court rejected the defendant’s argument and denied his motion. The defendant appealed.

The Appellate Decision

The court began its analysis by noting that the Fourth Amendment can come into play in blood-draw cases at three times:  1.) when blood is actually taken, 2.) taking blood and testing it, and 3.) taking the results of blood tests. In this case, the court explained the second situation was implicated because the police took blood that had been taken for medical purposes and conducted their own test.

Regardless of which of the three situations the police action implicated, the court explained that police must either obtain a warrant to seize a suspect’s blood or establish that there was probable cause as well as an exigency requiring the blood to be seized in advance of obtaining a warrant. The court explained that such an exigency is rarely present in a situation in which blood has already been taken and properly stored, since police could easily obtain a warrant and then test the stored blood at a later date.

Here, the court held that the warrantless testing of the defendant’s blood was done in violation of his constitutional rights because the police lacked exigent circumstances excusing their failure to obtain a warrant. Thus, the court ordered that the blood-test results be suppressed.

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona DUI?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with an Arizona DUI, contact dedicated Tempe DUI defense lawyer James E. Novak. Attorney Novak has decades of experience representing those facing DUI and related charges. To learn how Attorney Novak can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 480-413-1499 to schedule a free consultation today.

Additional Resources:

Other Articles of Interest from The Law Office of James Novak’s Phoenix DUI Blog:

Arizona Appellate Court Upholds DUI Conviction Over Defendant’s Operation Challenge, Phoenix DUI Law Blog, July 19, 2018

Nearly 300 DUI Arrests Were Made in Arizona over 4th of July Weekend, Phoenix DUI Law Blog, July 9, 2018

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