What You Need to Know about the Medical Blood Draw Exception

4 Things Arizona Supreme Court Needs to Admit Results

Under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, a person has the right to be protected from unlawful searches and seizures.

This protection extends to a DUI blood test.  Consequently, police need a suspect’s consent or a search warrant to obtain a blood sample for a DUI investigation.

Without the person’s consent or a search warrant, it is unlawful for the police to collect a DUI blood sample.

However, there are a few exceptions, including one known as the medical blood draw exception.

Under this exception, police can request a DUI blood sample, when taken incidental to a medical blood draw.

In order to for tests results to be admitted into court, the incident must have involved exigent circumstances, and police must have had probable cause to believe the defendant was driving impaired due to drugs or alcohol.

The Arizona Supreme Court recently considered the question of whether or not the DUI test was constitutional because the suspect asserted that the medical treatment was administered against his will.

The Arizona Supreme Court agreed it was not constitutional under the circumstances of the case, and that the good faith exception did not apply.

The Court outlined 4 things that must be established by the state to show that the suspect’s rights were not violated by invoking the medical blood draw exception.

Case Overview

The incident began after police and paramedics were called to the scene of a serious automobile crash in which a pedestrian was killed, and four other individuals hurt.

Emergency personnel found the driver screaming, delirious, and incoherent.  Paramedics reported that the suspect suffered a head wound, and was not cooperating with the emergency crew.

The defendant insisted that he wanted the paramedics to leave him alone.  The paramedics disregarded the defendant’s requests to be left alone.  They decided that the suspect was confused and unable to rationally make decisions, as a result of his injuries.

Paramedics restrained the suspect and transported him to the hospital by ambulance.  At the hospital, the defendant was sedated, and a blood sample was drawn so that treatment could be administered.

A police officer went to the hospital and requested a sample for the DUI investigation, in absence of a search warrant.

The test results indicated that the driver was under the influence of methamphetamine, and an active metabolite of heroin.

The defendant was later indicted for second-degree murder, narcotic possession or use, and four counts of endangerment.

A motion to suppress the blood test was filed by defense, on the basis that the DUI blood test was unconstitutional.

The suspect’s defense argued that invoking the medical treatment exception was unlawful, because the defendant did not consent to the treatment, and the officers did not have a search warrant.

The trial court denied suppression of the blood test evidence on the ground that the defendant didn’t expressly reject treatment.

The defendant was found guilty of reckless manslaughter, as well as other charges by the trial court.

An Arizona appellate court affirmed the defendant’s conviction, and the defendant appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court.

The Arizona Supreme Court agreed to review whether the medical blood draw exception, as codified in Section 28-1388(E), was applicable.

Under  A.R.S.28 – 1388 police can request and obtain a blood sample for their DUI investigation with probable cause, if the suspect’s blood is drawn for any reason.

If medical or authorized persons do not comply with law enforcement’s request,  they may be found guilty of criminal charges in violation of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Consequently, medical personnel at the hospital collected a blood sample for police after they requested it for their DUI investigation.

The Arizona Supreme Court cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling which held that that the medical treatment exception applied when three elements existed.  These included probable cause, exigent conditions, and a blood draw for medical reasons (Missouri v. McNeely 2013).

The state has the burden of proving exigent circumstances in cases where they have probable cause, but there is no time to obtain a warrant.  Further, the state needs to show that it was impractical to wait for a formal warrant under the urgent circumstances.

In reviewing whether or not exigent conditions existed, the court reviewed prior case law which held that exigency must be determined by considering totality of the circumstances.

Since all circumstances must be considered, and not just one, ordinary dissipation of blood alcohol content from the body is not in itself adequate to prove exigent conditions existed.

The Court noted however, that since the defendant had not raised an argument against exigency at trial, he waived his right to do so on appeal.

With regard to medical treatment, the Court noted that a person’s right to fairly make decisions about their own medical treatment is protected under both the Arizona and United States constitution.

The Justices cited an earlier case in which the court concluded the medical blood draw exception would only be applicable when a patient voluntarily accepted treatment. Further, the exception would not apply when someone was being medically treated against their will (Arizona v. Estrada 2004).

In another case precedent,  it ruled that the burden of proof was on the state to show that the consent by the suspect was given voluntarily (Arizona v. Spencer 2014). 

In this case, the court noted that despite the earlier cases, it was still not clear as to what is needed by law enforcement to show that a suspect either consented or refused medical care.

The Court sought to provide clarity, by reviewing the Arizona and U.S. Constitutions, and judicial precedents.  Their goal was to outline individual rights that applied to search and seizures,  and due process for persons to make their own medical care decisions.

It noted that the U.S. Constitution governs a person’s right to refuse medical care, while the State Constitution governs a person’s right to due process in making medical care decisions.

After their evaluation, the Court determined that a fourth factor must be considered when deciding on constitutionality of invoking the medical treatment exception.

The 4th standard that they required was for the state is to show that the blood collection was drawn in accordance with the suspect’s right to due process to make their own medical treatment decisions.

In sum, the Arizona Supreme Court outlined four things that the state must show n order for the medical blood draw exception evidence to be admitted: (1) exigency; (2) probable cause; (3) that the blood was drawn for medical purposes; and (4) The the blood sample was drawn in compliance with the defendant’s rights to direct his medical care.

The Court decided that unless a patient could not provide consent, the state would need to prove free and voluntary implied or express consent to treatment by the defendant.

When a defendant is unconscious or delirious, the police or medical professionals may not be able to obtain consent. However, there is also an unconscious exception that applies under A.R.S. § 28-1321(C), if both probable cause and exigent circumstances exist. The totality of the circumstances must be considered.

The Court remanded and vacated the decision by the Arizona Court of Appeals.  It sent the case back to the trial court to apply the four-part test for the medical blood draw exception, to decide whether the sample in question was properly obtained by the police.

Impact of Ruling on Arizona Drivers

Arizona laws and earlier case opinions did not clearly identify what is needed by police to assure that a suspect’s rights are not violated by the medical blood draw exception to a warrant.

Therefore, the Arizona Supreme Court sought to provide much needed clarity to protect an individual’s rights to due process when the medical blood draw exception is invoked.

Prior cases established that if police requested a DUI blood test under the medical treatment exception, the State needed to show there was probable cause, exigent circumstances, and that a blood test was being done for medical reasons.

In this case the Arizona Supreme Court required that the State needs to prove a fourth element.  That is, that they must show that the driver’s rights to due process in directing their own medical treatment, were not violated.

While this is not a new constitutional or legislative announcement,  it does provide an Arizona case precedent that serves to reinforce protections already in place and afforded by State and U.S. Constitution.

 DUI Defense Attorney Mesa AZ

For most drivers a DUI arrest is overwhelming, even in absence of a tragic accident.

Many drivers charged with DUI lose hope, especially if they failed impaired driver testing given by police.

Any type of DUI conviction is adversely life altering.  Arizona carries harsh penalties for those guilty of DUI including jail terms, license suspension, probation, alcohol and substance abuse counseling, fines, and fees.

But hope should not be lost.  An arrest does not mean you are guilty, and a DUI charge is not a conviction.

It is important to remember that no matter how serious the charges, you are still entitled to a competent defense.

In order to avoid a swift and harsh conviction, you should always consult and retain an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent you.

If you are facing a DUI charge in Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, or Scottsdale, consult DUI attorney James E. Novak.

As a former Maricopa County Prosecutor, James Novak utilizes his experience and insights obtained as a prosecutor in evaluating criminal cases.

The case discussed above involved defenses of violation of rights due to unlawful search and seizure.

This is just one of many defenses that can apply to charges of driving impaired or under the influence of drug or alcohol.

James Novak will review your case to determine if your rights were violated, consider all viable defenses, and develop an approach for a strong defense.

Often retaining an experienced attorney can lead to a far more favorable outcome than if you did not have a private practice defense attorney.

Examples of favorable outcomes include dismissal of charges, reduction of charges from a felony down to a misdemeanor, reduction of charges from a criminal to a civil citation, reduction of sentencing, avoidance of jail or prison terms, lowering of bail, fines, or fees.

James Novak of the Law Office of James Novak provides a free initial consultation for people facing active criminal charges in his area.

If you have been charged with a crime, contact or call the Law Office of James Novak at (480) 413-1499.  You will speak directly with Attorney, James Novak, regarding your matter.  If you have not yet retained an attorney, and your matter is in his service and practice area, he will provide you with options for defending your charges.

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