2/15/2010Oregon Supreme Court Upholds Motorist Blood Draws
Police in Oregon can draw blood from motorists accused of drunk driving without making any attempt to obtain a warrant.
Police in Oregon can draw blood from motorists without the need for a warrant following a Thursday state supreme court decision overturning lower court limitations on the practice. Attorney General John Kroger personally led the fight to remove what he called a "serious barrier" to the state's prosecution of 25,000 driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) arrests each year.
The high court decision came in the case of Thomas Gregory Machuca who had crashed his car in Portland, injuring only himself. After examining the accident scene, a police officer went to the hospital where Machuca had been taken to place him under arrest. After being advised that under the state's implied consent law he would be convicted for refusing to allow his blood to be tested, Machuca agreed to have his blood drawn. The appeals court majority believed that this "consent" had been coerced by the police officer's threat that the punishment for refusing the test would be worse than the consequences for failing the test. The high court dismissed this argument.
"Under settled Oregon law, an accurate statement regarding the lawful consequences that may occur if consent to a legal search is withheld is not coercive with respect to a defendant's decision to allow such a search to take place," Chief Justice Paul J. De Muniz wrote, citing the argument of dissenting appeals court judges.
Attorney General Kroger argued that the voluntary consent was entirely unnecessary because the state and federal constitutional protections against unreasonable seizures do not apply to motorists accused of DUI, so there is no need to apply for a warrant. The high court agreed.
"When probable cause to arrest for a crime involving the blood alcohol content of the suspect is combined with the undisputed evanescent nature of alcohol in the blood, those facts are a sufficient basis to conclude that a warrant could not have been obtained without sacrificing that evidence," De Muniz wrote. "It may be true, phenomenologically, that, among such cases, there will be instances in which a warrant could have been both obtained and executed in a timely fashion. The mere possibility, however, that such situations may occur from time to time does not justify ignoring the inescapable fact that, in every such case, evidence is disappearing and minutes count. We therefore declare that, for purposes of the Oregon Constitution, the evanescent nature of a suspect's blood alcohol content is an exigent circumstance that will ordinarily permit a warrantless blood draw of the kind taken here."
Because no warrant is needed, such blood draws are always permitted under the new precedent. Kroger praised this analysis in a statement.
"The decision in State v. Machuca clearly establishes the principle that the constitution does not require a police officer to obtain a warrant for a test to determine blood alcohol content from a DUI suspect," Kroger wrote. "I would like to express my appreciation for the speed with which the supreme court resolved this extremely important case."
A copy of the decision is available at the source link below.