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Arizona Medical Blood Draw Exception to Warrant Requirement in DUI Case

Posted on December 7, 2021 in

In a DUI case, Arizona’s highest court clarified application of the medical blood draw exception to the warrant requirement where an injured DUI suspect resisted medical treatment at the scene of the vehicular accident, but was restrained and sedated with blood drawn at the hospital at which time police requested a portion of the blood sample and had it tested.

Arizona and Nissley

Blood Test Results Are Evidence of DUI

The trial court denied defendant’s motion to suppress admission of blood test evidence in a DUI case involving the medical blood draw exception to the 4th Amendment warrant requirement. Affirmed on appeal.

On further review, the Supreme Court decided that, when blood is drawn involuntarily from the suspect, in order to invoke the § 28-1388(E) medical blood draw exception to the warrant requirement, it is the State’s burden to prove:

“[That] (1) probable cause existed to believe that the suspect was driving under the influence, (2) exigent circumstances made it impractical for law enforcement to obtain a warrant, (3) the blood was drawn by medical personnel for a medical reason, and (4) the provision of medical services did not violate the suspect’s right to direct his or her own medical treatment.”

DUI Driver Tested Positive for Drugs

In Scottsdale, the suspect was driving erratically at high speed, crossing lanes, swerving onto a sidewalk, crashing into another oncoming car, injuring four people and killing a pedestrian.

Emergency personnel found the suspect “delirious, flailing his arms, and screaming incoherently.” The suspect had a head wound, numerous cuts, and was covered with blood. He was uncooperative with paramedics, yelled obscenities, and demanded to be left alone. Paramedics concluded the suspect “could not make coherent decisions for his own [medical] care” and restrained him.

They loaded the suspect into the ambulance; he fought paramedics all the way to the hospital. At the hospital, the suspect was sedated and blood was drawn at which time police requested a portion of the blood sample. Blood test results were positive for methamphetamine and an active metabolite of heroine.

At the evidentiary hearing, the defense motioned to suppress blood test evidence on grounds police had no warrant and, secondly, there was no valid exception to the warrant requirement. The judge denied the motion to suppress. In the jury trial, defendant was convicted of reckless manslaughter, four counts of endangerment, and possession or use of narcotic drugs.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress blood test evidence.

The Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals decision and remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether police obtained the blood sample lawfully. If police did not, then the convictions and sentences against defendant must be vacated and a new trial ordered. In a new trial, all of the facts and circumstances must be considered by the court in order to determine whether exigent circumstances existed.

When Does the Medical Blood Draw Exception Apply?

An exception to the 4th Amendment warrant requirement is exigency. One such exigency is emergency medical treatment rendered at the scene of a vehicular accident. (In this case, medical personnel were compelled to turn over a portion of the suspect’s blood sample to police or themselves risk criminal prosecution under ARS § 28-1388(E).)

Under the 14th Amendment, the suspect has a Due Process right to direct his or her medical treatment. A “protected liberty interest,” the competent person has the right to refuse unwanted medical treatment.

What must the state show in order to invoke the medical blood draw exception to the 4th Amendment warrant requirement? The exception applies only when the suspect received medical treatment voluntarily (consent to treatment either implied or express).

Did Provision of Medical Services Violate Suspect’s Right to Direct His Own Medical Treatment?

The suspect has the right to refuse medical treatment under the 14th Amendment. More specifically, the right to direct one’s own medical treatment can only be exercised when the person has “capacity to reason and make judgments.” Defendant Nissley’s capacity to direct medical treatment was never determined at trial.

The Supreme Court held that the State must show police had probable cause, exigency, and that blood was drawn in the course of medical treatment for medical purposes. Additionally, the “state must prove that a blood sample obtained under the medical blood draw exception was drawn in compliance with the defendant’s right to direct his or her own [medical] treatment.” Therefore, the prosecution must show that the suspect freely and voluntarily consented to treatment or, alternatively, that medical personnel acted when the suspect was unconscious, delirious, or otherwise incapable of consenting.

Lastly, when deciding whether the State has met its burden, the court “should examine the totality of the circumstances.” This includes whether the suspect “communicated an unwillingness to be treated.”

Arizona v. Nissley, CR-15-0393-PR (Ariz. Sup. Ct. Feb. 1, 2017), vacated 238 Ariz. 446 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2015)

For precise language, read the court’s original opinion. Legal citations omitted.

For more information about blood tests and Arizona DUI law, read the discussion about driving under the influence of drugs.