Articles Posted in Chemical Testing

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A hotly contested issue in DUI cases throughout the nation is whether a blood draw taken from an unconscious DUI suspect is unconstitutional. While the Appellate Court of Illinois recently held that a warrantless blood draw from an unconscious suspect who is not under arrest violates the suspect’s Fourth Amendment Rights, approximately twenty-nine other states have laws permitting such blood draws.

It appears this controversial issue has come to a head, however, as the United States Supreme Court recently granted a petition to review in a Wisconsin case challenging an implied consent law permitting warrantless blood draws on unconscious defendants. Thus, it is anticipated that the country will soon have clear authority as to whether warrantless blood draws taken from unconscious defendants violate the right against unreasonable search and seizure afforded by the Fourth Amendment. If you are currently facing DUI charges, it is important to retain a knowledgeable Illinois DUI attorney who can advise you of how changes in the law affect your case.

The Wisconsin Case

Reportedly, the defendant in the Wisconsin case was stopped after the police received reports that he was driving while intoxicated. He submitted to a breath test, which revealed his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit of .08. The defendant was arrested and transported to a hospital for a blood draw. While at the hospital, the defendant was allegedly read an Informing the Accused form and given the opportunity to withdraw his consent to the blood test. At that time, however, the defendant was unconscious and not able to respond. The police directed the hospital staff to draw the defendant’s blood, which they did. The blood draw revealed a blood alcohol level of .22. The defendant was subsequently convicted of a DUI, after which he appealed, arguing the blood draw was an unreasonable search that violated his constitutional rights. The State argued that the blood draw was valid under the Wisconsin Implied Consent Law. Ultimately, the Wisconsin Supreme Court found in favor of the State, holding that the officer did not need a warrant to obtain a blood sample from the defendant, pursuant to the Implied Consent Law.

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One of the many protections afforded by the United States Constitution is the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. Pursuant to the Fourth Amendment, a defendant cannot be searched without a warrant absent consent. While there are exceptions to this rule, the state bears the burden of proving that an exception applies.

In People v. Pratt, the Appellate Court of Illinois, Fifth District, held that a blood draw taken without a warrant when the defendant was unconscious violated his Fourth Amendment rights. If you are charged with a DUI, you should consult an experienced Illinois DUI attorney to assess what evidence the state is permitted to use against you.

Facts Surrounding the Defendant’s Chemical Testing

Allegedly, the defendant was involved in a car accident in which his passenger was killed. He was transported to a hospital for treatment but was not placed under arrest. A police officer that investigated the accident directed medical professionals to draw the defendant’s blood while he was unconscious so that chemical testing could be performed. Based on the results of the chemical testing, the defendant was charged with aggravated DUI. Prior to his trial, he filed a motion to suppress the test results, on the grounds that the blood draw constituted an unreasonable warrantless search that violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The trial court granted his motion. The state then appealed; on appeal, the appellate court affirmed.

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The grounds for detaining and arresting a driver suspected of driving under the influence vary from state to state. Utah, which arguably has the strictest DUI laws in the country, permits an officer to detain a driver due to reasonable suspicion of a DUI. Utah drivers can also be charged with a DUI without conclusive results from chemical testing, and drivers may have no recourse for inaccurate charges.

For example, the Utah courts recently held that a woman who was charged with a DUI prior to the results of her blood alcohol test could not recover on a claim against the officer who arrested her, on the grounds the officer had reasonable suspicion she was intoxicated. If you are charged with a DUI, you should meet with an Illinois DUI attorney to analyze whether your arrest and subsequent charge comply with the standards imposed by Illinois law.

Utah Standard Regarding Detention for DUI

Allegedly, the defendant was driving when she was stopped by police due to an expired license plate. She advised the police officer that her new plate was in the trunk of her car, which the officer verified. The officer suspected the defendant was intoxicated, however, in spite of the fact that she was not stumbling or slurring her speech and her eyes were not glassy or bloodshot. The defendant admitted she had one beer with lunch, and submitted to field sobriety tests, which she failed. The defendant argued, however, that she was given unclear instructions on how to perform the test. She was subsequently arrested and taken to the county jail to provide a blood sample. She was charged with a DUI prior to the results of the blood test. The blood test ultimately revealed her blood alcohol level to be .01%, which was well below the legal limit in Utah of .05%.

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Whether the machine used to administer your breath test was properly certified could make or break the state’s case against you. Illinois regulations set forth several parameters and guidelines the state must comply with to ensure that any machine used to administer a blood or breath test is accurate. If the machine used to administer a breath or blood test was not properly calibrated or tested, any results from the test should arguably be precluded as their accuracy cannot be verified. When it is revealed that the state cannot prove a machine used to administer chemical testing to DUI suspects is accurate, it often affects more than one case and the effects can be far-reaching.

Recently, in State v. Cassidy, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that any results from machines that were not properly calibrated for several years were inadmissible, and ordered the state to notify all affected defendants so they could seek appropriate relief. It is estimated that over 20,0000 convictions will be affected by the Cassidy decision, arguably making it one of the most substantial rulings in favor of DUI defendants in recent times. If you are charged with a DUI you should retain an experienced Illinois DUI to attorney analyze the accuracy of any evidence that may be used against you.

New Jersey Supreme Court Ruling

Reportedly, the police officer in charge of calibrating the breath test machines for several New Jersey counties and ensuring that the machines were accurate failed to take a required step in the process, potentially affecting over 20,0000 breath test results. In State v. Cassidy, the Supreme Court of New Jersey analyzed whether the failure to perform all the tests needed to ensure the accuracy of the machines called into question the reliability of the tests.

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The Supreme Court of the United State’s ruling in Birchfield v. North Dakota has resulted in countless appeals all over the country, as defense attorneys and prosecutors try to discern the implications of the ruling. One issue that frequently arises is whether the refusal to undergo a blood test without a warrant is admissible to prove guilt at a trial for DUI charges. The Nebraska Supreme Court recently addressed this issue in Nebraska v. Hood, ruling that Birchfield did not prohibit the introduction of such evidence. If you are charged with a DUI and refused to undergo a warrantless blood test, it is important to know your rights.  A seasoned Illinois DUI attorney can assist you in analyzing what defenses may be available to the charges you face.

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Facts of the Case

Allegedly, the suspect in Hood was driving a vehicle involved in a two-car collision. The driver of the other vehicle died at the scene and a passenger from the other vehicle died 9 days later. An off-duty police officer arrived at the scene shortly after the accident and observed a strong odor of alcohol on the suspect’s breath. An officer who responded to the accident drove the suspect to the hospital. The responding officer also noted alcohol on the suspect’s breath and observed that the suspect’s speech was slurred and his eyes were bloodshot. An open bottle of liquor was found in the suspect’s vehicle as well. When he was asked if he had been drinking the suspect stated he had consumed four beers the night before. He was asked to undergo a preliminary breath test and refused. He was then asked to undergo a blood test and refused that as well.

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In Birchfield v. North Dakota, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a warrant is required to obtain a blood test from a DUI suspect, and that a DUI suspect could not face criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a warrantless blood test. Birchfield did not address, however, what penalties could be imposed on a DUI suspect for refusal to comply with a search warrant for a blood test.  Recently in Wyoming, DUI suspects who refused to comply with search warrants for blood tests were charged and found guilty of interference with a police officer. Similarly, under Illinois DUI law, a refusal to comply with a warrant for a blood test may result in an obstruction of justice charge. If you were charged with a DUI and refused to submit to a search warrant for a blood test, it is important to know what penalties you may face. A seasoned Illinois DUI attorney can advise you of what defenses may be available to the charges you face and assist you in obtaining a favorable result.

Wyoming Implied Consent Advisement 

Two separate cases in Wyoming arose under similar facts and ended in the same penalties for the drivers involved. It was alleged in both cases that the defendants were stopped due to suspicion of DUI and refused to submit to chemical testing. Under Wyoming’s Implied Consent Advisement, police can obtain a search warrant for a blood test if a DUI suspect refuses to submit to a blood test voluntarily. In both cases the police obtained search warrants for blood tests, and both suspects subsequently refused to comply with the search warrants. While neither suspect was convicted of DUI, both were convicted with interference with a police officer for refusing to submit to their respective warrants for blood tests, and sentenced to jail time. Both cases were appealed and the appeals are pending.

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Birchfield v. North Dakota, which was decided by the United States Supreme Court in 2016, continues to raise questions in courts throughout the country as to how DUI cases can be prosecuted and what evidence can be admitted against defendants charged with DUI. Recently, in Vermont v. Rajda, the Vermont Supreme Court held that a defendant’s refusal to submit to a blood test could be introduced at trial as evidence of guilt. Illinois DUI law remains unsettled as to whether a defendant’s refusal to submit to a blood test can be admitted as evidence of guilt, but as courts throughout the country continue to face this issue, it is likely only a matter of time before it is addressed by the Illinois courts.

In Vermont, defendants in several cases filed motions in limine to suppress evidence of their refusal to submit to blood tests from being introduced at trial. The trial court granted the motions, based on its belief that Birchfield recognized a constitutional right to refuse a blood test, which the court believed superseded the Vermont implied consent law and prohibited the admission of a defendant’s refusal to submit to a blood test into evidence. The state appealed, arguing that Birchfield held that evidence of refusal to submit to a blood test was admissible at trial, and further, that an amendment to Vermont’s implied consent law rendered the constitutional issue moot. On appeal, the court held that the trial court erred in granting defendants’ motions in limine, reversing the trial court ruling.

In its analysis, the court noted that the amended Vermont implied consent law stated that a defendant had a right to refuse to submit to evidentiary testing, but evidence of any refusal of a breath test could be introduced as evidence in a criminal proceeding. Defendants interpreted this language as implying that the legislature intended for refusal of breath tests to be permitted into evidence, but not refusal of blood tests. The court disagreed, noting that as the statute did not expressly prohibit admission of a refusal to submit to a blood test, such evidence could be admitted unless it was unconstitutional. Regarding the constitutional issue, the court noted that several other states that addressed the issue found that the Fourth Amendment did not bar evidence of refusal to submit to a blood test, and joined those courts in concluding evidence of refusal to submit to a blood test did not warrant constitutional protection. The court noted that Birchfield only barred the criminalization of a refusal to submit to a blood test, and did not prohibit the prosecution from entering evidence of the refusal. As such, the court held the admission of evidence of a defendant’s refusal to undergo blood testing was permitted.

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Police officers in Delray Beach, Florida recently responded to a car accident in which a man driving a pick-up truck collided with a minivan, resulting in the death of all four occupants of the minivan. In investigating the crash, the driver of the pick-up truck submitted to blood testing and was ultimately charged with DUI manslaughter. While DUI-related car crashes are an unfortunately common occurrence, this one is distinctive because the driver did not consume any alcohol or any illicit drugs. Instead, the blood test revealed the driver was under the influence of difluoroethane, a liquefied gas used as a propellant. Upon further investigation, the police uncovered that the driver had huffed Dust-Off, a household cleaner, prior to the crash to get high.The driver’s attorney has set forth the argument that since Florida does not have a defined legal limit of inhalants a driver can consume before he or she is considered impaired, the DUI charge is improper. The driver has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting a jury trial. While the pick-up truck driver’s case is the first case since 2014 in which a driver was charged with DUI manslaughter due to intoxication by inhalants, there were other instances in which drivers caused fatal crashes after inhaling intoxicants, but those drivers were not charged with DUI. The increase in charges due to intoxication by inhalants is evident throughout the country as well, including in Illinois DUI cases.

Unlike Florida, Illinois has a broader DUI statute that allows a person to be charged with DUI for reasons other than impairment due to the consumption of alcohol. Specifically, the Illinois DUI statute states that a person shall not drive if they are under the influence of an “intoxicating compound” to a degree that renders him or her unable to drive safely. These catchall provisions are specifically aimed at preventing people from driving while under the influence of non-traditional intoxicants, such as paint, markers, and aerosol spray. As a result, an Illinois license holder who inhales household intoxicants and then drives can be charged with DUI.

There have been multiple cases prosecuted in Illinois criminal courts in recent years in which drivers were charged with and convicted of DUI due to huffing. Unlike the signs of intoxication due to alcohol, such as odor, bloodshot eyes, and stumbling, the signs of intoxication due to inhalation of intoxicating substances are not always easily observable. In some cases, a person who has inhaled intoxicants may not exhibit any symptoms of intoxication at all. As a result, the prosecution may face an uphill battle in proving an individual who drove after inhaling intoxicants was impaired. Additionally, defense attorneys have questioned the constitutionality of the provision of the Illinois DUI statute regarding “intoxicating compound,” arguing it is vague.

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The Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Birchfield v. North Dakota continues to affect DUI law throughout the country. The Birchfield ruling stated, among other things, that DUI suspects who refused to submit to a blood test without a warrant could not be subject to increased criminal penalties for their refusal. Last month, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania granted an appeal on the narrow issue of whether it is unconstitutional to introduce evidence of a suspect’s refusal to submit to a warrantless blood test at trial as evidence of the suspect’s guilt. While the court’s ruling will only be applicable in Pennsylvania, it is anticipated it will be persuasive for courts in other states ruling on the same issue, and may impact the prosecution of DUI cases throughout the country, including Illinois DUI cases.

In Commonwealth v. Bell, the suspect was detained for inadequately illuminated headlights. On approaching the suspect’s vehicle the officer observed the suspect had glassy and bloodshot eyes, and an odor of alcohol. The suspect subsequently admitted he consumed four beers. The officer then administered a field sobriety test, which the suspect failed, and a Breathalyzer test, which indicated the suspect had a blood alcohol concentration of .127%. The suspect was arrested for DUI and taken to a hospital for testing of his blood alcohol content. After the suspect was read the chemical testing warnings, however, he refused to submit to a blood test.

The suspect was charged with DUI. Prior to his trial he filed a motion to dismiss the charge, arguing he had a constitutional right to refuse to submit to the blood test, and therefore, his refusal should not be admitted into evidence. The suspect’s motion was denied and the prosecution was permitted to introduce evidence of the suspect’s refusal to submit to the blood test. The suspect was subsequently convicted of DUI.

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Impaired drivers are a hazard of the road and cause thousands of fatal collisions each year. While alcohol has been the leading cause of impaired driving for decades, drugs recently surpassed alcohol as the leading cause of impairment in collisions involving an impaired driver. The increase in drug related collisions is likely due to several factors, including the opioid epidemic and legalization of marijuana. While many drivers are impaired due to the use of illicit drugs, drivers who are using legally prescribed medications still face the risk of impairment if they are unfamiliar with the side effects of their medication.

Presently, there is no national standard for testing a driver suspected of DUI for opioids, marijuana or other drugs, and police officers often struggle with recognizing the signs a driver is impaired due to drugs. Under the current law, Illinois DUI suspects can be subjected to testing of their blood, urine or breath if impairment is suspected. The currently available drug tests, which utilize a suspect’s blood and urine, can be costly and take a long time to administer, which may allow for the suspect’s body to eliminate some or all of the drug. As such, police departments have been searching for technology that would allow for quick, easy, and accurate testing of whether a suspect has ingested any prescribed or illicit drugs that would cause impairment, similar to the way a Breathalyzer test detects alcohol.

In the near future, the Police Department of Carol Stream Illinois will begin testing newly developed technology by administering drug tests via a mouth swab, which will allow them to test for opioids, marijuana, and amphetamines. The Carol Stream Police Department appears to be the first police department in Illinois to begin using driver drug tests. The tests not only give a positive result if the suspect has drugs in his or her system, but will provide measurements of the amount of drugs present. The Carol Stream police plan to conduct field tests to determine the accuracy of the mouth swab tests, by asking DUI suspects who submit to a blood test to submit to the mouth swab as well, so the results of both tests can be compared.