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Pennsylvania Court Discusses Exigent Circumstances Sufficient to Justify a Warrantless Seizure of Blood in DUI Cases

The Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions protect people from unreasonable searches. This means, among other things, that a DUI suspect cannot be compelled to submit to a blood test absent a warrant. There are some exceptions to this rule, though, such as when exigent circumstances exist. Recently, a Pennsylvania court discussed what constitutes an adequate urgent situation to allow the warrant requirement to be set aside in a DUI case in which the defendant appealed his conviction. If you are accused of a DUI offense, it is crucial to understand your rights, and you should speak to a Pennsylvania DUI defense attorney as soon as possible.

The Facts of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant drove his car onto train tracks, after which a train collided with the car and pushed it a quarter of a mile. When first responders arrived at the scene of the accident, the defendant was outside of his vehicle while his fiancé and their daughter were still inside the car. The fiancé was pronounced dead at the scene, and the defendant and his daughter were transported to the hospital for treatment.

It is reported that an officer that investigated the accident smelled marijuana coming from the car. Thus, he directed another officer to interview the defendant at the hospital and obtain a legal blood draw. When that officer arrived at the hospital, the defendant was restrained and drifting in and out of consciousness, and could not consent to a blood test. His blood was drawn prior to the officer’s arrival, though.

Allegedly, the police obtained the sample, which was positive for THC. The defendant was charged with multiple DUI crimes. He moved to suppress the results of his blood test on the grounds that his blood was seized without a warrant or satisfaction of the exigency exception. The court denied the defendant’s motion, and the defendant appealed.

Exigent Circumstances Sufficient to Justify a Warrantless Seizure of Blood

The trial court ruling was reversed on appeal on the grounds that no exigent circumstances were present that would support the seizure of the defendant’s blood without a warrant. The court explained that where a driver is unconscious and cannot submit to a blood test, the exigent circumstances exception almost always allows a blood test without a warrant.

The court elaborated that exigency exists when BAC evidence is dissipating, and another factor creates pressing needs that would take priority over an application for a warrant. Generally, both factors are met when a DUI suspect is unconscious. Relevant to the subject case, exigent circumstances may exist if there is a probability that evidence will be destroyed if the police have to seek a warrant. The court found that such exigency was not present here, as there was no threat of the destruction of evidence. Thus, the court reversed the trial court ruling.

Talk to a Trusted Pennsylvania DUI Defense Attorney

While the police may ask a DUI suspect to submit to a blood test, absent a warrant, they typically cannot compel them to do so. If you are faced with DUI charges based on the results of a blood test, it is prudent to talk to an attorney about your options for protecting your interests. Zachary B. Cooper is a trusted Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyer with the skills and experience needed to help you seek a successful outcome, and if you hire him, he will work tirelessly on your behalf. You can reach Mr. Cooper through the form online or at (215) 542-0800 to set up a conference.