Blood alcohol tests are often a key part of Florida DUI cases. Although police officers generally have to get a warrant or your consent to submit to such a test, there are a number of exceptions to that rule. The state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal recently explained one of those exceptions.
A defendant was charged with DUI manslaughter with failure to render aid and vehicular homicide with failure to render aid, stemming from a late-night car accident near West Palm Beach. The other driver involved in the crash died after his vehicle ended up in a nearby canal. The defendant, who the court said left the scene of the crash on foot and called 911 nearly an hour after the crash, argued that a problem with the throttle on his car had caused the collision. He also asked a court to throw out the results of a blood alcohol test taken after the crash, which showed that he had a blood alcohol content of more than 0.17 percent. A toxicologist estimated based on that test – which happened hours after the accident – that his BAC was as high as 0.23 percent at the time of the collision. That’s nearly three times the legal limit.
A deputy picked the defendant up and took him to the crash scene after he called 911. He told the police officer that he’d stopped a stop sign and hit something – he wasn’t aware what – after proceeding into an intersection. He said he then went home to call the police. The officer said he smelled of alcohol, and his speech was slurred. Although he refused a blood alcohol test when he was taken to the hospital, his blood was drawn and tested anyway. A trial judge later rejected his request to exclude the blood test evidence. Although the cops didn’t have a warrant at the time, the judge said the test was justified by “exigent circumstances.”
The Fourth District affirmed the decision on appeal. It first explained that blood tests are considered “searches” for the purposes of the U.S. Constitution’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. Such searches typically require police to obtain a warrant before they perform the search and seize property. There are a number of exceptions to this general rule, the court explained, including “when the exigencies of the situation make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that a warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” The court pointed to previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions finding that exigent circumstances may exist when the destruction of evidence is imminent.
In this case, the court said the warrantless blood test was permissible because of how quickly alcohol dissipates in the blood stream. In other words, it likely would have taken the cops too long to get a warrant to still get an accurate reading of the defendant’s blood alcohol content at the time of the crash. Although that natural process alone may not be enough to justify a warrantless test in every DUI case, the court said this case was not routine because it involved a fatal accident.
As a result, the court affirmed the conviction.
If you or a loved one has been charged with DUI or another crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced defense lawyer. Clearwater DUI attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.
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