High court rules police must avoid coercion when drawing blood in DUI cases

Gary Grado//May 30, 2013

High court rules police must avoid coercion when drawing blood in DUI cases

Gary Grado//May 30, 2013

Police investigating drunken driving cases must get voluntary consent from a suspect without any signs of coercion when drawing blood for testing or else get a search warrant, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled today.

The decision upholds a juvenile court’s ruling that found a Pima County Sheriff’s deputy illegally took the blood of a 16-year-old high school student suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana, even though the boy, identified as Tyler B., agreed to the draw after being read his Miranda rights and being read Arizona’s implied consent warning. The court determined the consent was coerced based on the totality of the circumstances.

Arizona’s implied consent statute allows the state to suspend a driver’s license for at least 90 days if the person refuses to submit to a blood or breath test to determine alcohol concentration. Police can take the blood anyway by getting a search warrant.

A driver expressly consenting to the blood draw, or search of his body, allows the police to proceed without a warrant. But under the Supreme Court’s ruling, police must now consider whether the consent was voluntary.

Voluntariness is decided on a case-by-case basis, said David Euchner, president-elect of the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, which filed a brief in support of the juvenile as a friend of the court.

“In this case they said even with the implied consent statute the Fourth Amendment requires that consent be voluntary just like with every other search,” Euchner said. “Until now, people talk about a DUI exception to the Fourth Amendment and what this case says is there is no DUI exception to the Fourth Amendment.”

Justice Scott Bales, writing for the unanimous court, said the juvenile’s consent was coerced. Tyler was being held at his school under the watch of two deputies in a room for two hours without his parents before being read the implied consent warning and giving consent. At the beginning of the incident he was visibly shaking and nervous and had been placed in handcuffs when he became agitated.

Courts have established that voluntary means there is no evidence that police somehow coerced the consent.
Justice John Pelander wrote in concurrence that the decision is only going to confuse police on what is required of them under the Fourth Amendment and open the door for “dubious involuntariness claims and related suppression hearings.”

“But in view of the various contingencies and uncertainties surrounding determinations by officers in the field (and subsequently by courts) on whether express consent of DUI arrestees (particularly juveniles) is voluntary, the safest course of action for law enforcement might simply be to obtain search warrants, when reasonably feasible, for obtaining blood samples in DUI investigations,” Pelander wrote.