Legality of forced blood draws in routine Colorado DUI cases

In Colorado, officers generally cannot force a DUI suspect to provide a blood sample or take a breath test. Of course, if the person suspected of DUI refuses to take a blood or breath test, the state implied consent law results in driver's license suspension for at least a year without the necessity of a conviction.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court reviewed whether and in what circumstances police could draw a nonconsensual blood sample from a DUI suspect without first seeking a warrant. The court held that dissipation of alcohol from the blood was not enough to allow warrantless blood draws in routine DUI cases.

Facts Of The Case

An officer stopped a Missouri driver on the suspicion he was driving under the influence of alcohol. After failing field sobriety tests, the officer placed him under arrest and began to drive him to the station for a breath test.

The driver told the officer he would not take a breath test, so the officer diverted to a local hospital for a blood test. Without the driver's consent or a warrant, the officer asked a lab tech to take a blood sample. The blood test taken about 25 minutes after the stop showed a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 percent.

As the case proceeded to trial, the Missouri district court suppressed the evidence, so the prosecution could not use the blood test results at trial. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed that since there was no emergency the officer should have obtained a warrant before taking a blood sample.

In an 8-1 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment requires police officers to seek a warrant before forcing an individual to provide a blood sample when reasonable. The court noted that many states now have technology in place that allows officers to obtain search warrants remotely. For example, one state even allows judges to review and approve emailed warrant applications on their iPads.

Ripple Effects From The Decision Felt In Colorado

Under Colorado law, officers have only been able to force DUI suspects to take blood tests in very narrow circumstances. In the People v. Sutherland case, the Colorado Supreme Court listed the criteria for warrantless, nonconsensual blood draws:

  • There must be probable cause — or facts to support a reasonable belief that an alcohol-related offense occurred
  • A blood sample could prove the individual's level of intoxication
  • Exigent or emergency circumstances must have existed
  • The test must be reasonable and conducted in a reasonable manner

The standard allows for forced blood draws when officers suspect intoxication was the cause or a crash that results in death or serious injury. The U.S. Supreme Court case left open the possibility of forced blood samples in unique cases; however, many law enforcement agencies may error on the side of caution and seek warrants before taking any blood samples.

When law enforcement officers cut corners or fail to follow proper procedures, it is a violation of your constitutional rights. If you have been charged with an alcohol-related driving offense, seek the counsel of an experienced Colorado criminal defense attorney. A lawyer can ensure your rights are protected and provide invaluable advice on how to proceed with the case.