Earlier this year the Washington State Court of Appeals addressed the issue of whether a warrantless blood test violated the rights of a defendant charged with a Marijuana (non-alcohol) related DUI. In City of Seattle v. Pearson (Wash. Ct. App. Feb. 29, 2016), a pedestrian was struck by the defendant’s car. The defendant suffered from health conditions for which she was authorized to consume medical marijuana; she had smoked marijuana earlier in the day. After voluntary field sobriety tests, the defendant was arrested for driving under the influence. The officer thereafter transported the defendant to a hospital for a blood draw. Blood was not taken or drawn by way of consent or via a warrant. The results of the test showed a THC concentration of approximately 20 nanograms – the legal limit in Washington state is set at 5 nanograms.
As is well known in the legal community, the U.S. and Washington State constitutions provide protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. This ostensibly includes the intrusion into a person’s body to draw blood. Thus, absent a recognized exception, a warrantless blood draw is deemed unlawful. An exception may exist in the case of exigent circumstances, however. In instances where acquiring a warrant is not realistic because the delay that occurs in the pursuit of securing a warrant would adversely affect factors such as an officer’s safety, enable escape, or allow for the destruction of evidence a warrant may not be required. In the Pearson case the defendant argued, on appeal, that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of the blood test after finding that exigent circumstances existed to justify the warrantless blood test.
The appeals court noted that generally the natural dissipation of THC in a defendant’s bloodstream will amount to an exigency that is sufficient to waive the warrant requirement only where the party seeking to introduce evidence of a warrantless blood test can show that it would lead to the ultimate result of losing evidence that reflects the defendant’s intoxication if the process of obtaining a warrant is postponed or otherwise delayed. The court found that the prosecution failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that a warrant could not have been obtained in a reasonable time before the evidence dissipated. The court further explained that because the prosecution failed to show that obtaining a warrant would have significantly delayed collecting a blood sample, the natural dissipation of THC in the defendant’s bloodstream alone did not constitute an exigent circumstance sufficient to bypass the warrant requirement. The court concluded, therefore, that the warrantless blood draw was not justified under the exigent circumstances exception. The appeals court ultimately reversed the defendant’s DUI conviction. It is refreshing to know that regardless of the fact that a person was injured in the Pearson case, the appeals court did not resort to the all too familiar – ‘result oriented’ ruling, which so often happens in cases involving ‘victims’.
If you, or a loved one, have been arrested and cited for DUI in Washington State you should immediately seek the assistance of a Seattle DUI lawyer. A qualified and respected Seattle DUI attorney, among other things, can quite possibly save a person thousands of dollars in court and insurance fees, extent of loss of privilege to drive and amount of jail time to be served. Washington traffic laws are far too complicated for any ol’ attorney to handle. Be smart … hire a qualified and skilled Seattle DUI attorney when arrested for an alcohol and/or a drug related DUI in Washington State.