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Court of Criminal Appeals: DWI Accident Suspects Have Privacy Expectations in Blood Samples

Updated: Jul 9, 2023 @ 2:23 pm

Reading Time: 3 Minutes

When it comes to a DWI accident, especially one that involves the death of another person, Texas law enforcement will make every effort to hold accountable the person whom they think is responsible. This sometimes leads to officers taking unconstitutional shortcuts to gather evidence.

Blood Test Ruled Inadmissible After Police Fail to Obtain Search Warrant

State v. Martinez case heard by Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently weighed in one such case. In State v. Martinez, the defendant was in a traffic accident in February 2014. Emergency medical personnel took the defendant to a nearby hospital for treatment. At the time, he was not under arrest for DWI or any other crime.

Defendant in Accident, Blood Sample Drawn for Medical Purposes

After the defendant arrived at the hospital, a trauma team began to work on him. A nurse drew some of the defendant’s blood for purely medical purposes. The nurse later described the defendant as “conscious” at the time but “not entirely coherent.”

As the nurse explained the necessary testing procedures to the defendant, he became concerned that he could not afford the procedures and therefore refused them. The defendant then left the emergency room.

Police Obtain Subpoena for Blood Sample

Shortly after the defendant left, a police officer arrived at the hospital. The officer spoke to the hospital staff and instructed them “not to destroy the blood” sample taken from the defendant earlier. Sometime later, the officer obtained a subpoena for the blood sample. The hospital then released the sample to the officer, who sent it to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) in Austin for testing.

Prosecution Charges Defendant with DWI Manslaughter

Prosecutors eventually charged the defendant with DWI manslaughter, alleging he was responsible for causing the death of another person during the initial auto accident. Before the trial court, the defense moved to suppress (exclude) the results of the DPS testing on the blood sample. The court agreed the blood evidence was inadmissible.

Appellate Courts Uphold Suppression, Prosecution Asks for Review

The judge explained that while the “seizure” of the blood sample via the subpoena was constitutional, the “search” was not as the police never obtained a search warrant. An intermediate appeals court upheld the trial court’s decision. The prosecution then asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to review the matter.

But the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the two lower courts. Basically, the Court held the defendant had a reasonable “expectation of privacy” in the blood sample that was taken from him at the hospital. The Court noted the defendant did not consent to the initial blood draw–indeed, he was described as “uncooperative” and left the hospital before testing was completed.

More to the point, the Court said there are “private facts contained in a sample of a person’s blood” that they have a right not to share. Under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a person cannot be compelled to share such “private facts” unless the police first obtain a search warrant. As the police failed to do so here, the search was invalid.

Need Help With A Similar Situation?

Speak with a Texas DWI Accident Lawyer Today

The Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision is an important victory for anyone suspected of a crime following a possible DWI accident. Especially when you are lying in a hospital in a vulnerable state, the police and the courts still have a duty to protect your basic constitutional rights.

Cases like this also illustrate why you need to contact a qualified Houston criminal defense lawyer if you are suspected of causing a DWI accident. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need immediate assistance.

Houston DWI Lawyer Tad A Nelson is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the TBLS.

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