Footage from the body-cam of a Salt Lake City police officer recently went viral, causing a massive, national debate over the behavior of law enforcement in stressful situations. In the video, a nurse at a Salt Lake City hospital can be seen arguing with a police detective about his request to take blood from an unconscious patient. For many, the video raised serious questions about whether such blood draws would violate a person’s rights. As it turns out, however, the United States Supreme Court has largely answered the question already.
The Disturbing Footage
The incident took place in late July, but the video only become available a little over a week ago. The video was taken by body-cam of an officer who was at the hospital, as well as from footage taken by hospital security cameras. The footage shows a staff nurse refusing to allow a police detective to draw blood from the unconscious victim of a car accident. The nurse tells the detective that blood cannot be taken unless the patient gives consent, the police have a warrant, or the patient is under arrest.
The detective becomes agitated and threatens to arrest the nurse for interfering with a criminal investigation. After checking with hospital officials, she stands her ground and is taken into custody and dragged out of the hospital. She was never charged, however, and an investigation is now underway by the Salt Lake City police department.
Warrantless Blood Tests
The nurse in the video was accurate in her interpretation of the law. Police officers cannot mandate a blood draw from a suspect—conscious or not—without a warrant. Even in states like Illinois where consent to submit to blood alcohol testing is implied by driving on the state’s roadways, a person cannot face criminal charges for refusing a blood test without a warrant. Administrative penalties may apply but not criminal consequences.
This was recently decided by the United States Supreme Court in its ruling in Birchfield v. North Dakota. The high court determined that a blood draw constitutes a search as covered under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and that police officers must obtain a warrant before taking blood of a suspected drunk driver—even if the driver has already been arrested.
It is this element that makes the Utah case even more disturbing. In the video, the detective claimed he wanted the patient’s blood to rule out intoxication, not because he had probable cause to suspect the patient was driving under the influence. Utah’s implied consent law is nearly identical to the one in Illinois in that they both require an officer to have probable cause to believe that a driver is under the influence before requesting a breath, urine, or blood test.
Protecting Your Rights
If you have recently refused a breathalyzer or blood test and you believe your rights were violated by the police, contact an experienced Will County criminal defense attorney. Attorney Jack L. Zaremba is a former prosecutor who understands that the rights of the defendants are often compromised during criminal investigations, and he will work tirelessly on your behalf. Call 815-740-4025 for a free consultation today.