The Utah State Court of Appeals has overturned a woman’s conviction for drunken driving (DWI) and chastised the Salt Lake City police for illegally obtaining a sample of her blood against her will without a warrant.
The court insisted that in order to draw blood following a traffic accident, even a very serious one, without a warrant, the police (1) must find themselves in a situation in which an unusually long delay would be necessary to obtain a warrant and (2) that that delay would seriously threaten to destroy evidence as the blood alcohol concentration slowly declined. The delay would have to be very long because the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) declines at a very predictable rate among all people, regardless of sex, height, weight, race, or other factors.
However, the court found that neither of the arresting officers made any effort whatsoever to obtain a warrant, or even inquire about the availability of a magistrate, before taking blood from the defendant. The court found even more disturbing the fact that one of the officers testified to the effect that such blood draws are performed as a matter of routine.
Indeed, a spokesman for the police department confirmed that such blood drawing is routinely done in serious accidents and there is no evidence of any plan to change the department’s policy or practice.
It’s very important to stop impaired and drunken driving. It’s also very important not to break the law or violate defendants’ rights in doing so. And it’s even more important that peoples’ rights not be systematically and routinely violated.