Supreme Court Refuses to Decide Warrantless Forcible Blood Draw Dispute

Posted by Jon Ibanez on January 19th, 2015

The United States Supreme Court has announced that it will not hear an appeal from Colorado by prosecutors on whether officers should be allowed to forcibly take blood from a DUI suspect without a warrant. The United States Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case means that the decision of the Colorado Supreme Court on the issue will stand.

In 2012, Jack Schaufele caused a collision and the responding law enforcement suspected that Schaufele was driving under the influence. Schaufele was transported to the hospital. While at the hospital, Schaufele fell asleep or otherwise became unconscious. While unconscious, law enforcement ordered that Schaufele’s blood be withdrawn without a search warrant to determine his blood alcohol content. As a result of the blood withdrawal, it was later determined that Schaufele’s blood alcohol content was approximately three times the legal limit.

Schaufele was charged with driving under the influence, along with other charges, partly based on the blood alcohol content obtained through the warrantless blood withdrawal. At trial, the judge excluded the blood evidence because it was obtained without warrant, in violation of Schaufele’s 4th Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. On appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

Prosecutor’s appealed to the United States Supreme Court arguing that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the body justifies a warrantless, forcible blood withdrawal. The argument being that, by the time it takes officers to obtain a warrant, the blood alcohol content of the suspect will decrease, thus resulting in the loss of evidence.

The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision as well as the decision of the United States Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the matter was, in part, influence by the 2013 landmark case of Missouri v. McNeely.

In Missouri v. McNeely, the United States Supreme Court held that a blood withdrawal was, in fact, a search which is protected under 4th Amendment of the Constitution. Although the United States Supreme Court has carved out exceptions to the warrant requirement, a forcible blood withdrawal, by itself, does not fit into any exception. Prior to this, a forcible blood withdrawal fell within the “exigent circumstances” exception based on the risk of losing a DUI suspect’s blood alcohol content through its dissipation in the body.

Missouri v. McNeely, one of the few good recent decisions by the United States Supreme Court, will stand for now.

In declining to hear Colorado prosecutors’ appeal in Schaufele’s case, the United States Supreme Court has essentially affirmed that our body is, in fact, the most private thing we own. As such, if law enforcement wants to breach that which we hold most private, it will have to strictly adhere to the requirements of the 4th Amendment.