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Is a Warrantless Blood Test Admissible in a DWI Accident Case?

Updated: Jul 9, 2023 @ 2:23 pm

Less than 1 minute Reading Time: Minutes

DWI accidents differ from normal drunk driving cases in that there is an actual victim. This can greatly influence how police and prosecutors act. Yet no matter how serious or devastating a victim’s injuries may be, that does not excuse conduct that violates a defendant’s constitutional rights.

Court Rejects Police Excuses for Not Getting Warrant First

Overview of Texas DWI Laws

Under Texas law, police may draw a breath or blood sample from a DWI suspect without his or her consent if an officer “reasonably believes” said suspect was involved in a DWI accident that caused death or serious bodily injury to another person. In theory this law allows police to perform these tests without first obtaining a search warrant. But in 2014, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals made it clear that notwithstanding this statutory authority, such non-consensual tests violate a defendant’s Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.

A DWI Case with Multiple Plea Agreements

Recently, a Texas appeals court applied this ruling to suppress a warrantless blood test ordered by police in connection with an ongoing intoxication manslaughter case. This particular case has been going on for nearly six years due to procedural issues. In fact, the prosecution and defendant in this case have reached three separate plea agreements.

Factual Summary of the Incident

The basic facts are fairly simple. One afternoon in March 2012, the defendant’s truck hit a motorcycle. The motorcyclist died as a result of his injuries. When police arrived at the scene, the defendant told an officer that he “drank four beers earlier that day.” After taking the defendant to the hospital for medical treatment, a police officer asked the defendant to give a blood sample. The defendant refused and demanded an attorney. The officer then ordered a nurse to take a non-consensual blood sample. The officer made no attempt to get a search warrant.

First Plea Deal and Its Rejection

As mentioned above, there were multiple attempts to resolve this case through plea bargaining. The first such attempt yielded an agreement to reduce the charge from intoxication manslaughter to criminally negligent homicide, with the defendant serving five years probation. Prosecutors backed out of the deal at the last minute, however, citing objections from the victim’s family.

Final Plea Agreement and Appeal

The subsequent plea agreements came after the trial judge denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the blood tests. Eventually, the defendant agreed to serve 150 days in jail and serve ten years community supervision (probation). He reserved his right to appeal, however, and challenged both the prosecution’s decision to back out of the first plea agreement and the denial of his motion to suppress.

Ruling on Warrantless Blood Test Evidence

The appeals court sided with the defendant on the latter issue. It held that consistent with the Court of Criminal Appeals’ 2014 ruling, the police acted illegally when they took a blood sample without first obtaining a warrant. While there are times when “exigent circumstances” permit police to conduct a warrantless search, the appeals court said that was not the case here. Even though the accident took place on a weekend, the court said there was no reason to believe police were unable to locate a judge or magistrate who could issue a warrant.

Get Help From a Skilled DWI Accident Lawyer

Houston DWI Attorney Tad NelsonDWI accident cases often succeed or fail based on the results of blood or breath tests. This is why it is critical to ensure such tests are performed legally.

If you have been charged with a DWI following an accident, you need experienced legal counsel who knows how to handle these cases. Contact the Houston DWI accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates if you need help today.

The Law Office of Tad Nelson & Associates

Houston • Clear Lake • Galveston • League City

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

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