One of the current trends in impaired driving law enforcement tactics is to conduct a blood alcohol test on suspected intoxicated drivers even without their consent or a court-issued warrant. States have rolled this practice into the "implied consent" portion of their driver's license arrangements, meaning that police are exempted from having to obtain a warrant from a judge before a blood draw.
But thanks to a ruling in one of our neighboring states, so-called "warrantless blood draws" may be on their way out.
This week, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that police cannot obtain blood from a suspected drunk driver without a warrant if the person does not give his or her consent. The high court rejected the state's argument that these blood draws represented a "valid exception" to the Fourth Amendment protections against unwanted seizures due to their inclusion in implied consent statutes.
The ruling stemmed from two 2012 cases in Kootenai County, Idaho, which sits just over the Washington border along I-90 east of Spokane. In both instances, the drivers refused blood draws but were taken to nearby hospitals for these tests to be performed. And in both cases, their blood alcohol levels were suppressed by a trial judge.
The application of warrantless blood draws was already vanishing in the Gem State. The Kootenai County Sheriff's Office has reportedly changed its internal policy to require that deputies get warrants before drawing blood from DUI suspects. The modification came as a result of a ruling last year by the U.S. Supreme Court (McNeely), which stated that warrantless blood draws were not justified in and of themselves by the time-sensitive nature of these cases due to the metabolization of alcohol in the suspect's body.
Though this practice has technically been outlawed here in Washington under an amended Implied Consent Statute, many prosecutors have been slow to accept the change when they have pending, unlawfully obtained blood cases. Others have indicated that they won't rely on evidence taken from warrantless blood alcohol tests in seeking DUI convictions. This policy, coupled with this week's ruling in Idaho, may be enough to make warrantless blood draws go away in our state.