The US Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. A US Supreme Court case from last year made it clear that this protection bars law enforcement from taking a driver’s blood without a search warrant simply because the police fear losing evidence of the driver’s driving under the influence. A recent Illinois Appellate Court decision reached the same outcome, ruling that the police did not face an emergency, so they should have gotten a warrant before taking a driver’s blood.
The incident that initiated this case was a single-car accident in Washington County late one night in June 2012. Law enforcement officers found Jake Armer’s vehicle in a ditch and Armer walking around outside the vehicle. While at the hospital, a deputy attempted to read the “Warning to Motorist” to Armer, but he fell asleep and could not be re-awakened. At that point, the deputy instructed the hospital staff to draw the driver’s blood. The blood test yielded a blood-alcohol content measurement of 0.159, almost double the legal limit.
At trial, the driver argued that the police had no right to seize his blood without a warrant. The deputy handling the case believed that, given the driver’s glassy, bloodshot eyes, odor of alcohol, slurred speech, and statement that he was drunk, probable cause existed for directing the hospital staff to draw Armer’s blood. The deputy chose not to contact a prosecutor or a judge because of the late hour. (It was after 12:30 a.m. when the driver arrived at the hospital.)
The trial court agreed with Armer. The police faced no emergency circumstances that prevented them from getting a warrant before taking the driver’s blood. Since there was no emergency and Armer did not consent, the blood draw was an improper search and seizure, and the test result was inadmissible. The state argued in its appeal that the officer did face an emergency. In the time that it would have taken to get a warrant, evidence could be destroyed by the delay because the alcohol in Armer’s bloodstream would dissipate and a test result would be less accurate.
This argument was not good enough. The appeals court noted that, in a similar case decided last year, the US Supreme Court declared that the dissipation of a driver’s blood-alcohol content is not necessarily an emergency that allows for warrantless searches and seizures in all situations. The prosecution must offer some proof that waiting for a warrant would lead to such a prolonged delay that the evidence obtained would be completely unreliable. If, for example, there was no judge available to issue a warrant, that might establish that an emergency existed that would make a warrantless search and seizure allowable.
In Armer’s case, the state lacked that “something more” needed to justify the warrantless search and seizure. The deputy had help securing the accident scene and following Armer to the hospital. Any one of these officers could have made the call to pursue obtaining a warrant, but none did. There was no proof that, if they had tried, they would have faced any unreasonable delays in obtaining the warrant.
If you or a loved one are facing a DUI charge, it is important to contact experienced Illinois criminal defense counsel right away. There are several procedures the police are required to follow, and failure to do so may keep certain evidence against you out of your trial. Talk to the experienced DuPage County criminal defense attorneys at Martin & Kent. Our knowledgeable attorneys can advise you about your rights and defenses available to you, and aid you in presented the best defense possible.
Contact us online or by calling (888) 388-9151 to schedule your confidential initial consultation at no charge.