7/28/2014Washington Court: DUI Blood Sample Test Requires Warrant
Court of Appeals in Washington says warrant will stop DUI blood samples from being tested for anything but alcohol or drugs.
Police in Washington state may not skip the constitutional requirement to obtain a warrant before sending a blood sample from a drunk driving suspect to a lab for analysis. The state Court of Appeals last week came to the conclusion in the case of Jose Figeroa Martines, who crashed his SUV on State Route 167 on June 20, 2012.
Washington State Trooper Dennis Tardiff arrested Martines because he had been seen driving out of control prior to the crash, and he smelled of alcohol. Trooper Tardiff obtained a warrant to extract a blood sample, but the warrant did not say anything about testing. The sample was tested anyway, and Martines had a blood alcohol content of .12 along with the presence of Valium. Because of a prior conviction, Martines was charged with felony driving under the influence (DUI).
Martines appealed on the grounds that there was no reasonable suspicion to test his blood for the presence of drugs. The three-judge appellate panel went a step further and said it should not have been tested for anything at all without a warrant. State prosecutors insisted that blood is an item, no different from a piece of clothing, that is "seized," and once the state has it legally, it can test it at any time. The three-judge panel rejected the idea that blood is just an ordinary item.
"Blood is not like a voice or a face or handwriting or fingerprints or shoes," Judge Mary Kay Becker wrote for the panel. "The personal information contained in blood is hidden and highly sensitive. Testing of a blood sample can reveal not only evidence of intoxication, but also evidence of disease, pregnancy, and genetic family relationships or lack thereof, conditions that the court in Skinner referred to as 'private medical facts.'"
Because blood is different, the court held, a warrant is required before it can be "searched" just as a warrant is needed for it to be "seized." The judges explained that the warrant requirement limits a police officer's discretion and protects the driver's privacy from an unrelated fishing expedition.
"Where the state has probable cause to suspect driving under the influence, the requirement to obtain a particularized warrant for blood testing will prevent the state from rummaging among the various items of information contained in a blood sample for evidence unrelated to drunk driving," Judge Becker wrote. "For example, when a blood sample is obtained in the course of investigating driving under the influence, the state may not -- without further warrant -- use the sample to produce a DNA profile that can be added to government data banks."
The court pointed out that it would have been easy for the trooper to ask the judge to include a test as part of the warrant that was issued. The judge would have narrowed the testing to items related to the DUI incident.
A copy of the decision is available in a 620k PDF file at the source link below.