Washington Court of Appeals Rules to Require Warrants for Testing DUI Blood Samples

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Last week, the Washington state Court of Appeals ruled that law enforcement officers throughout Washington must obtain warrants before sending blood samples of suspected drunk drivers to a lab for analysis. The decision, which protects the constitutional rights of criminal suspects, stems from a case involving a Washington driver arrested for felony DUI in 2012.

According to court documents, the case involved a man who had been arrested under suspicion of DUI after crashing his SUV on State Route 167. Prior to the crash, a Washington State Trooper noted that the man had been driving out of control and that he smelled of alcohol. Following protocol, the trooper obtained a warrant to collect a blood sample from the suspect. Although the warrant said nothing about testing the sample, it was sent to a lab for analysis anyway. It showed the man's BAC level to be .12 and detected the presence of Valium. The man, who had a prior DUI conviction, was charged for felony DUI.

After the man appealed his case, the Appeals Court panel ruled that his blood sample should never have been tested without a warrant. Although the state argued that blood is an item no different than clothing and that it can be tested at any time, the appellate judges ruled that blood is unlike any other item obtained during a criminal arrest or investigation, and that blood contains highly sensitive personal information, including information about disease and pregnancy. The court determined that this information can be considered “private medical facts.”

Ultimately, the court ruled that because blood is unlike other items which can be seized and tested, officers must obtain warrants both for extracting blood samples and testing them. Requiring a warrant for testing limits police officers' discretion and protects the privacy rights of drivers by limiting what the state is able to look for during these tests.

The ruling is yet another indication of the many “mistakes” law enforcement officers make when investigating and arresting motorists under suspicion of driving under the influence. If you have questions about a recent DUI arrest and would like to speak to an experienced DUI lawyer about your rights and defense, Attorney Jonathan Dichter is available to help. For a free consultation, call 425-296-9358 today.

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