Driving drunk on Easter Sunday, Virginia resident William Daniels blew through a Utica, New York stop sign and plowed into another car, killing the driver. Daniels himself was injured and charged with aggravated vehicular manslaughter, aggravated vehicular assault and aggravated DWI (driving while intoxicated).
Daniels initially pled not guilty to the charges and contested the warrantless drawing of his blood at the crash scene while he was unconscious. Though unconscious when blood was drawn for alcohol testing, Daniels may have been talking after the crash and admitted to drinking. He eventually pled guilty to the charged offenses, but his situation raises an important question: can the police draw a person's blood for alcohol testing without their consent or a search warrant?
If an individual consents to blood being drawn, there is no issue. However, if a suspected drunk driver refuses to take a breath test to determine its alcohol content, the police must get a search warrant to draw blood for alcohol testing. Drawing blood is a search of a person under the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment and it requires either a search warrant or a specific warrant exception.
Somewhere in between is the unconscious, suspected drunk driver who can neither consent nor refuse. Every state has different laws regarding who can draw blood for alcohol testing, and under what circumstances. New York and Virginia law both contain a legal doctrine called "implied consent," which presumes that given the chance, everyone would consent to a blood draw. An unconscious person cannot refuse so their consent is implied and no warrant is necessary. It was likely because of this legal doctrine that William Daniels decided to plead guilty and forego challenging the blood draw.
The consequences of vehicular crimes like the ones William Daniels faced are serious. Had he not entered a plea agreement, Daniels could have spent between eight and 25 years in prison.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a DWI or other vehicular offense, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your situation, your rights and your options.