Another Victory for Jim Medley & Associates!
On Monday, June 30, 2014 the Constitution came alive in Harris County Court 15, Houston, Texas. In July 2013 a Harris county man was involved in a serious traffic accident. On the crash scene, officers could smell alcohol coming from the man’s breath. The man was however unconscious and had to be taken by Life light to Hermann Memorial Hospital. No one else was injured in the wreck.
A deputy of the Harris County Sheriff’s Department arrived at the hospital a short time later. The man from the crash was in ICU and was still unconscious. The deputy sheriff went through a ridiculous routine of asking the man if he consented to having his blood taken in order for the government to know how much alcohol was in his system. When the near comatose man did not refuse, the deputy had a nurse draw too vials of blood from the man’s arm. The blood was sent to the harris County Institute of Forensic Science and analyzed. The alcohol concentration was .11 g/100ml.
TEXAS IMPLIED CONSENT LAW
Article 724.011 of the Texas Transportation Code (TRC) provides that any driver who is arrested for Driving While Intoxicated is “deemed” to have consented to have a specimen of their blood taken. The Texas statute goes on further to provide specifically that a driver who is dead or unconscious is “incapable of refusal.” (TRC 724.014). Under this law, if considered valid, the deputy’s taking of the unconscious driver’s blood was legal.
UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION AMENDMENT IV
The United States Constitution is the highest law of our land however. This law limits the powers of the government to invade people’s privacy. Even in DWI investigations, suspects have an expectation of privacy in the contents of the blood running through their veins. The Constitution in general requires probable cause and a warrant authorized by a judge in order for police to be able to take blood from someone for analysis. There are however emergency circumstances that can excuse the necessity to obtain a search warrant. Also, a person can waive the Fourth Amendment and give consent for a search of their blood.
THE LAW APPLIED IN THIS CASE
The conflict in the case this week was between the Texas Implied Consent Law and the limits on the government mandated in the U.S. Constitution. Waiver of a Constitutional right (consent to search) must be proven by the government in a case where no warrant was obtained. The Texas Constitution requires that consent to search be proven by clear and convincing evidence.
The real question in this case was if it is legal for the police to take blood from a person relying on a law passed by the Texas legislature that deems an unconscious person to have waived their Constitutional privacy protections. The United States Supreme Court answered this question a long time ago in Sibron v. New York, 392 U.S. 40 (1968). In Sibron, the Court invalidated a search based on a New York law that allowed certain searches of people under circumstances the U.S. Constitution would not tolerate.
A number of cases have come through the Texas courts in the past year in which blood has been taken from DWI suspects in accordance with Texas laws, but in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Almost all of these cases that have been challenged by Texas DWI lawyers have been held invalid by appeals courts. The most common Texas law that has given rise to these challenges is the law that purports to allow blood to be taken without a warrant from suspects who have two or more prior convictions for DWI. These searches are illegal without evidence of some other LEGAL exception to the Constitutional warrant requirement.
BLOOD SEARCH WARRANTS
Harris County has had a systemic procedure for officers to apply for blood search warrants for about seven years. Magistrates are on duty 24/7 in Houston, and new laws allow for warrants to be applied for by fax and even by telephone. As of 2014 police almost always apply for and obtain warrants to take blood in cases where people arrested for DWI and they refuse to voluntarily give a breath or blood test. Once a search warrant is obtained, Texas law and the U.S. Constitution allow officers to resort to force in order to carry out the search warrant.
OUR CLIENT’S DWI CASE DISMISSED
The judge did not hesitate to follow the law and suppress the illegally obtained blood alcohol results. The DWI case was dismissed, and another victim of illegal police conduct was vindicated by hard work and an in-depth knowledge of the law. We hope this result is an inspiration to other DWI lawyers to stand up for people’s rights and to fight for justice.