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Blood Testing & DUIs

On September 20, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown approved a Senate bill to amend § 1524 of the CA Penal Code, allowing officers to obtain the necessary search warrants in DUI investigations to conduct blood testing on suspects when they refuse to comply.

Previously, a search warrant could only be obtained if there was probable cause, supported by affidavit, in an effort to collect evidence of a felony. Since most DUI convictions are classified as misdemeanors, this provided a problem for law enforcement in collecting key evidence in those cases.

The Fourth Amendment also protects citizens from illegal searches and seizures, an issue discussed in the 2013 case of Missouri v. McNeely. Here, the Supreme Court acknowledged the state’s argument regarding the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream and the subsequent urgency in administering a blood test in many DUI cases in order to obtain valuable evidence, but held that this should not be considered an exigent circumstance across the board to justify conducting warrantless, nonconsensual blood testing in every driving under the influence case.

While they basically upheld that a search warrant is still needed for blood testing in most situations, they left the issue a little open-ended, explaining that the totality of the circumstances must be considered on a case by case basis to determine exigency.

Due to the continuing high numbers of DUI-related deaths, California responded to the above decision by passing SB 717 to both comply with the Supreme Court decision as well as assist law enforcement in their efforts to prosecute DUI offenders by authorizing the issuance of search warrants to allow officers to take a sample of blood, in a reasonable, medically approved manner, from a person suspected of violating DUI laws (CA Vehicle Code §§ 23140, 23152, or 23153), when that person has refused an officer’s request to submit to, or has failed to complete such a blood test (CA Vehicle Code § 23612).