The United States Supreme Court made a decision last month that could drastically affect the outcome of DUI cases in Tampa and other cities in Hillsborough County. The Supreme Court ruled that forced blood draws in DUI arrests without obtaining a warrant are unconstitutional. Florida just like a number of other states has an implied consent law which basically means that by getting a Florida driver’s license and accepting the “privilege” to drive on Florida’s roads, drivers are considered to have consented to providing warrantless breath, blood or urine tests. There are additional Florida laws that complicate the situation for blood tests slightly. Florida statute 316.1933 says that police officer shall do blood tests when a driver who is believed to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs caused an accident that resulted in death or serious bodily injury. Police can also take a blood test if the driver who they believe to have driven under the influence is unconscious and therefore unable to consent to the blood draw.
The question is how the recent United States Supreme Court ruling in Birchfield v North Dakota affects the Florida law surrounding forced blood tests. The recent Supreme Court case is actually the result of 3 consolidated cases and involves 3 different scenarios. One driver, Mr. Birchfield was pulled over and arrested for DUI and then told by police that if he refuses to submit to a blood draw, he could be prosecuted for refusing to submit to a blood test – this was based North Dakota’s implied consent law. Mr. Bernard, a Minnesota driver was also told that refusing to submit to BAC testing could lead to criminal prosecution but unlike Mr. Birchfield, he refused to take a breath test and not a blood test. The 3rd driver, Mr. Beylund consented to a blood draw only after he was told that refusing to submit to a blood test could result in separate misdemeanor charges. All 3 cases had a different result. The Supreme Court held that the request for a warrantless breath test was constitutional and upheld Mr. Bernard’s conviction. Mr. Birchfield’s conviction was reversed because the request for a warrantless blood test was unconstitutional and Mr. Beylund’s case was referred back to the lower court to make a decision whether or not his consent is valid and voluntary based on the fact that he was erroneously advised that he would be required to submit to a blood test.
None of the 3 cases in front of the Supreme Court involves the additional facts that Florida law requires before police can lawfully take a blood test if a driver is suspected of DUI. This means that the specific facts of each case will likely need to be argued in court. One can make an argument based on the Supreme Court ruling in Birchfield that taking a forced blood draw in Florida is unconstitutional even if the case involves death or serious bodily injury or if the driver was unconscious because the police still had an alternative method available. For example if the driver is conscious and someone else was killed or seriously injured, police can ask the driver they suspect of DUI to submit to a breath test. In cases where a breath test is not possible because the driver suspected of DUI is unconscious, police can always try to obtain a warrant. Factual scenarios are different in each case and if you or a loved one was arrested for DUI or is being investigated for DUI in Tampa or Hillsborough County, you should contact an experienced Tampa DUI attorney right away. An attorney will be able to argue the facts of your case and may be able to avoid a DUI conviction. Kerstin Wade has handled thousands of DUI cases and is always available for a free consultation. Schedule your free case evaluation today by calling 813-401-0130.