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Warrantless Evidence Allowed by Appeals Court

September 25, 2014 | Posted In Appeals, Drunk Driving

In a drunk driving arrest, police make their case based on evidence from the traffic stop or accident—relying heavily on the driver’s actions and any physical evidence of intoxication present or collected, including blood alcohol content and Breathalyzer test results. Usually, a blood sample requires a warrant, but in certain cases, expediency is key, and police may draw blood without consent or the warrant, New Jersey DUI attorneys report. In fact, the Appellate Division recently overturned a motion to suppress warrantless evidence in a New Jersey woman’s drunk driving incident. 

In December 2011, Donna Jones hit a car waiting at the red light at the intersection of Kings Highway and Church Road in Cherry Hill, causing a multi-vehicle pile-up. Eleven officers responded, along with four emergency medical technicians, who had to pull Jones out of her vehicle. She was unconscious and bleeding heavily, and was taken immediately to the hospital. Officers smelled alcohol on her, and when she regained consciousness, she continued to act inebriated. Jones admitted to having a drink before getting behind the wheel. 

A nurse took Jones’ blood sample an hour and 15 minutes after the collision, acting on the direction of police officers at the hospital. The officers had not obtained a warrant for the sample. Jones’ blood alcohol content was revealed to be .345, which is more than 4 times the legal driving limit of .08. She was charged with driving while intoxicated. 

At the time, New Jersey case law allowed an officer to order a blood draw without a warrant, as long as there was probable cause to suggest that the driver was drunk, New Jersey DUI attorneys explain. It was also not a common practice to obtain a warrant over the phone at the time, so officers did not make an attempt to do so before ordering Jones’ blood sample. She moved to suppress the evidence at her trial, which was held just four months after the McNeely decision. 

In Missouri v. McNeely, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an officer could not bypass the warrant requirement for a blood draw simply because of the rate at which the alcohol in a person’s bloodstream dissipates. Although blood samples and DUI evidence must be taken in the immediate aftermath of a suspected drunk driving collision, the court ruled that the necessary expediency alone does not allow police to act without a warrant. Based on this, a Superior Court judge ruled to suppress the evidence. 

But the Appellate Division dug further into cases in which warrantless blood samples were allowed, and found a precedent from 50 years earlier, Schmerber v. California, in which the Supreme Court approved the draw because of the timeframe—the suspect was transported to the hospital after the accident, which put the blood alcohol content evidence in jeopardy. The judges found that the Schmerber situation was similar to Jones’, while McNeely involved a routine drunk driving arrest. The traffic jam and hospitalization, among other factors, compromised the officers’ ability to obtain the BAC evidence, and the warrantless blood draw was legitimately collected and could be used as evidence. 

At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, a New Jersey law firm, we represent drivers who have been charged with DUI/DWI crimes. The complexity of the driver’s rights and the court’s allowances can make these cases tricky, so call your New Jersey DUI attorney at HCK to discuss your case immediately. 

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