Supreme Court Upholds Unconscious Blood Draws

In the midst of several high-profile rulings handed up last week as the U.S. Supreme Court wrapped up its 2018-2019 term, one flew below the radar. The high court upheld a Wisconsin law that allows police to draw blood from drunk driving suspects, even if the suspect is unconscious. Specifically, the law says police don't need a warrant to do a blood alcohol test if they have probable cause that the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Wisconsin is one of 28 states that have so-called "implied consent" laws, where drivers automatically consent to a blood draw by virtue of driving on public roads. Texas does not have any such law, although the state regularly carries out "No Refusal" DUI crackdowns.

Charles "Rocky" Rhodes, professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, says the Supreme Court didn't rule on the implied consent standard, but on another portion of the Wisconsin law. "The Supreme Court upheld the idea that in general, you can do a blood test on somebody who is unconscious, under what's known as exigent circumstances," he tells KTRH. "Exigent circumstances mean when there's a compelling need and there's no time to get a warrant, you can proceed even without a warrant as long as you have probable cause."

Houston Attorney Chris Tritico agrees about the so-called "exigent circumstances doctrine," but still thinks the Supreme Court only complicated the issue further with this ruling. "In an earlier case called McNeely, the Supreme Court ruled that absent exigent circumstances you can't draw blood from someone who's passed out," says Tritico. "This is certainly a weakening of that standard that they announced earlier in the McNeely case, and we'll see if they continue down that line."

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