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Warrant Not Required to Analyze a Legally Obtained Blood Sample

Yesterday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals drew a line in the sand for determining when law enforcement needs to obtain a warrant in impaired-driving investigations. In State v. Fawcett, the court held “if the state lawfully obtains a blood sample for the purpose of chemical analysis, then a chemical analysis of the sample that does not offend standards of reasonableness is not a separate search requiring a warrant.”[1]

Factually, Fawcett did not dispute what happened in her case. On May 24, 2014, Fawcett was driving her vehicle in Blaine, Minnesota when she t-boned another vehicle at an intersection. Upon arriving at the crash scene, officers began investigating Fawcett for criminal vehicular operation (CVO) because of the injuries to the other party and Fawcett admitted to consuming alcohol prior to driving.

As an ambulance began transporting Fawcett to a hospital, the officers began seeking a warrant to obtain Fawcett’s blood sample for evidence of alcohol consumption. After successfully securing the warrant, an officer told Fawcett they were taking a blood sample without her consent. A hospital employee took a sample of Fawcett’s blood and the officer forwarded it to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for analysis.

The first lab report on Fawcett’s blood sample showed no alcohol in her system. Further testing followed and triggered a second lab report two-and-a-half months later, which showed a metabolite of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Alprazolam in Fawcett’s blood sample.[2] Fawcett had a valid prescription for Alprazolam, but the prosecution alleged she violated the terms of the prescription by combining it with marijuana consumption.

Fawcett’s attorney challenged the second testing of his client’s blood sample as unlawful under the Fourth Amendment, because the scope of the search warrant did not include testing for controlled substances and the officers lacked probable cause to extend the search. The district court agreed and suppressed Fawcett’s lab results.

On appeal, the court of appeals reversed and stressed Fawcett lost her expectation of privacy in her blood sample once the officers legally obtained it with a warrant. The court reasoned that Schmerber, among other cases, dictates the standard of reasonableness in this context. The court noted that once officers obtained Fawcett’s blood sample legally, she did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy for her blood sample to be tested for controlled substances regardless of the scope of the search warrant. Fawcett already gave up her expectation of privacy in her blood sample for testing of evidence of impairment by alcohol and further testing of controlled substances was not any more invasive. Therefore, the court reasoned, the Fourth Amendment protection of requiring a warrant does not apply.

With all the recent challenges to Minnesota’s DWI laws[3] and whether law enforcement needs a warrant to secure evidentiary tests, the court of appeals drew a line on this case. Even though the officers were not seeking evidence of controlled substances in Fawcett’s system, they obtained her blood sample legally with a warrant and further testing of that sample for evidence of controlled substances did not implicate expectations of privacy and the Fourth Amendment.

 

Robert H. Ambrose is a DWI and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He is one of Minnesota’s “Ten Best” DWI Attorneys for Client Satisfaction; has a Lead Counsel Rating in Drunk Driving Defense; and is a member of the National College for DUI / DWI Defense. St. Paul criminal defense lawyer; St. Paul criminal defense attorney; and DWI lawyer St. Paul.

For a free consultation, please call us at 651-800-4842 or email at ambroselegal@icloud.com.

[1] State v. Fawcett (citing State v. McMurray, 860 N.W.2d 686, 691 (Minn. 2015)) (citing Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 360, 88 S. Ct. 507, 516 (1967) (Harlan, J., concurring)) (stating that a person must have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area or item searched in order to invoke Fourth Amendment protections).

[2] Both THC and Alprazolam are controlled substances in Minnesota. Minn. Stat. §152.02, subd. 2(h), subd. 5(c)(2).

[3] Recently, the Minnesota Court of Appeals declared charging a driver with refusing a blood test unconstitutional in Trahan; and it declared the same for refusing urine tests in Thompson. The SCOTUS also granted review of Bernard, which is a challenge to the constitutionality of charging a driver with DWI Refusal for refusing to submit to a breath test. We blogged about that decision here and about why SCOTUS granted review Bernard here.

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