Randolph H. Wolf Challenges Warrantless Blood Draw in DWI Case

Randolph H. Wolf was recently retained to represent a client who had been involved in motor vehicle accident and was subsequently charged with DWI.  The police escorted the injured client to the hospital where a blood test was taken which indicated that the client was intoxicated at the time of the accident.  Randolph H. Wolf recently filed a motion in the municipal court, seeking to suppress the blood test results on the basis that they were improperly obtained without a valid warrant and without the consent of the defendant.

The United States Supreme Court first considered the Fourth Amendment restrictions on blood tests in Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 86 S.Ct. 1826, 16 L.Ed.2d 908 (1966), where a blood sample was drawn from a defendant suspected of driving while under the influence of alcohol.  Noting that search warrants are ordinarily required for searches of homes, the Court reasoned that absent an emergency, no less should be required where intrusions into the human body are concerned, even when the search was conducted following a lawful arrest.  Thus, absent emergency circumstances (or “exigent circumstances”), a warrant will typically be required for blood tests. 

In the past, New Jersey courts have held that the dissipating nature of the alcohol content in a defendant’s blood in and of itself present an exigency or emergency situation that justifies an exception to the warrant requirement in drunk driving cases.   Based on this reasoning, New Jersey essentially dispensed with the warrant requirement in every case where the police arrest a suspected intoxicated driver and convey him to a medical facility for testing.

Just last year, however, the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Missouri v. McNeely, 133 S.Ct. 1552 (2013), dramatically reversed New Jersey procedure in blood cases.  According to the United States Supreme Court, there is no such thing as a categorical rule dispensing with the warrant requirement in these types of cases.   The Court explained that search warrants in such cases remain the preferred procedure.  Although police can justify dispensing with the warrant requirement under emergency circumstances, those cases must be judged on a case-by-case basis.

Randolph H. Wolf argued that no exigencies supported a departure from the warrant requirement in this case at bar.  He noted that while police officers in this case sought no warrant, nothing precluded them from doing so.  The events occurred during normal business hours.  Moreover, modern day law enforcement technology provides for expeditious processing of warrant applications (via telephone or radio) and there was nothing that indicated that a warrant could not have been obtained within a reasonable amount of time.  Finally, he noted that there were no factors that would suggest that the arresting officer faced an emergency or unusual delay in securing a warrant.

The State will be submitting a brief in responses to these issues shortly.  It is anticipated that the State will argue that the client consented to the blood draw, as he had signed a consent form in the hospital.  However, under the New Jersey Constitution, any consent given by an individual to a police officer to conduct a warrantless search must be given knowingly and voluntarily.  The State, therefore, must demonstrate that the client knew that he had a choice in the matter.  As the consent form itself did not notify the client that he had the right to refuse to consent to the blood draw, it is Mr. Wolf’s position that the client’s apparent consent to give blood at the hospital was simply ineffective and obtained under unreasonable circumstances.

We will continue to post updates as this case progresses.  If you were subjected to blood testing in a drunk-driving investigations, it is imperative that you immediately consult with an experienced DWI attorney.  As can be seen, several defenses may be available depending on the facts of your case.  Call Randolph H. Wolf at 732-741-4448 for a free consultation.