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When Police, Hospitals Disagree on Search ConsentTexas has an implied consent law that states that a licensed driver has consented to chemical testing if a police officer has probable cause to believe that they have been driving while intoxicated. The law applies even when the suspect is unconscious and unable to give consent. When a DWI suspect is injured in an incident, the officer will often collect a blood sample from the suspect at the hospital, where there is a trained staff available to draw the sample. However, some hospitals have a policy against drawing blood from a patient who is unable to consent. This can lead to disputes between police officers trying to obtain evidence and hospital staff concerned about the patient’s privacy.

Recent Example

A nurse at a Dallas area hospital recently refused to allow police to draw blood from a DWI suspect until they presented a warrant. The male suspect had been involved in a car accident that killed two women. The man had been convicted for DWI five times previously, gotten off of probation five days earlier, and just had the ignition interlock device removed from his vehicle. A breath test showed no traces of alcohol, but the officer believed that he was intoxicated because they claim that he:

  • Had been driving the wrong way at the time of the accident;
  • Said he had been taking Xanax;
  • Had bloodshot eyes; and
  • Spoke rapidly.

Police arrested the man, who allegedly agreed to a blood test. After the suspect was taken to a hospital, a nurse told the officer that they could not do a legal blood draw on the suspect, claiming that the suspect could not consent to the test because he was intoxicated. The officer obtained a warrant to draw the blood sample from the suspect, who has been charged with two counts of intoxication manslaughter.

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Failure to Administer Oath Suppresses Evidence from Search WarrantYou have the right to deny a police search until an officer presents you with a search warrant. To obtain a warrant, the officer files an affidavit with a judge, who will approve a warrant if he or she agrees that there is probable cause to conduct a search. Police often use warrants to search residences or vehicles, but a warrant is also required to obtain a blood sample if police suspect you of driving while intoxicated. Police are essentially asking to search your body for evidence of intoxication, which prosecutors can use in a trial. Officers in the field often send their affidavits electronically to a judge in order to expedite the process. In two recent cases, DWI defendants successfully argued that the evidence obtained from their search warrants was inadmissible because the officer who signed the affidavit had not been put under oath.

Purpose of the Oath

The fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that a court shall not issue a warrant without “probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation.” When creating an affidavit, the police officer must swear under oath that the information in the affidavit is truthful, to the best of his or her knowledge. If the officer appeared before a judge to request a warrant, he or she would be sworn in before giving testimony. Two police officers are needed when sending an affidavit electronically:

  • One officer to write and sign the affidavit; and
  • A second officer to place the first officer under oath and sign the affidavit to confirm the oath was administered.

In the two recent cases, both involving the Texas Tech University Police Department, body camera footage showed that the second officer did not verbally administer the oath to the officer creating the affidavit for the blood search warrant. The prosecution argued that the oversight was a technicality that did not discredit the validity of the warrants. However, the court granted the defense’s request to suppress the evidence in both cases. Even if the officers intended to tell the truth, putting them under oath is an important step in protecting defendants against false statements of probable cause.

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Court Strikes Down Exigency Claim, Warrantless Blood TestThe Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently upheld a trial court’s decision to bar a blood sample from being used in a high-profile driving while intoxicated case. In The State of Texas v. Joel Garcia, the defendant has been charged with three counts of intoxication manslaughter for allegedly being under the influence of alcohol and cocaine during a fatal traffic accident. The trial court judge approved the defendant’s request to suppress the test results from a blood sample that police obtained without a warrant. The Texas Eighth District Court of Appeals overturned that ruling, stating that exigent circumstances permitted police to forgo the warrant. The Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal appeals court, reinstated the trial court’s ruling.

Exigency

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires law enforcement to present a suspect with a warrant before conducting a search, which includes the drawing of blood to test for intoxication. Courts may allow prosecutors to present evidence that was obtained without a search warrant if there was an immediate danger of losing the evidence if law enforcement had waited for the warrant to be issued. In The State of Texas v. Joel Garcia, prosecutors claimed three exigent circumstances that necessitated drawing the blood immediately:

  • The chaotic nature of the accident scene delayed the investigation and may have allowed intoxication levels in the defendant's blood to naturally dissipate;
  • The presence of cocaine in the defendant's system could have dissipated at an unpredictable rate; and
  • The hospital was planning on administering an IV on the defendant, which may have diluted the blood sample.

Court Reasoning

In rejecting the exigency claims, the Court of Criminal Appeals stated that proof of exigency must come from historical facts and what police could reasonably infer. The court soundly rejected the first two claims. Not enough time had passed for the police to believe that the defendant's blood alcohol concentration would substantially drop if they waited for a warrant to be approved. Police did not cite a suspicion of cocaine use leading up to drawing the blood sample. As for the third claim, the court stated that police had no reason to believe that medical treatment was imminent because:

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Police Increase DWI Enforcement During No Refusal WeekendsIt is common to see local law enforcement promote no-refusal periods for people suspected of driving while intoxicated. Holidays, such as the upcoming Labor Day weekend, are a popular time for celebrating, which can increase the number of people who are drinking and driving. No-refusal weekends often coincide with these periods in order to punish those who break DWI laws and dissuade others from drinking and driving. Police departments increase their resources to make it more difficult for suspects to avoid blood alcohol concentration tests.

Implied Consent and No Refusal

No refusal refers to circumstances in which a DWI suspect cannot legally refuse to submit to a BAC test, such as a providing a blood or breath sample. Texas has an implied consent law that states that anyone who is allowed to drive in the state has also consented to cooperate with a BAC test. Refusing the test will result in an automatic suspension of the suspect’s driver’s license and can be used as evidence against the suspect in a DWI case. However, some courts have ruled that the implied consent law violates a suspect’s rights under the fourth amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits searching a person without a warrant. In this case, police obtain blood from the suspect in order to search for evidence of intoxication. To get around this defense, police can request a warrant to obtain a suspect’s blood sample. Refusing the warrant would be a criminal offense.

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New Program May Expedite Blood Search Warrants During DWI ArrestsIf you have been charged with driving while intoxicated, you can refuse to submit to a blood alcohol test. In Texas, police officers can request a blood search warrant that requires a sample of your blood to be drawn and tested for alcohol or other intoxicating substances. Executing the warrant can take hours because the officer often needs to go to the station or court house to obtain it. However, some Texas municipalities are testing a mobile communications program that enables officers to receive an approved blood search warrant in the field. If the program is successful, it may become easier for law enforcement to obtain evidence against DWI suspects.

Blood Search Warrant

Under Texas law, a judge can issue a blood search warrant that allows a medical professional to collect a DWI suspect’s blood sample as possible evidence of intoxication. An officer can request a blood search warrant as long as:

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