Washington Appeals Court Holds No Exigent Circumstances Justify Warrantless Blood Test in Marijuana DUI Case

In an important decision, the Court of Appeals of Washington addressed the issue of whether a warrantless blood test violated the rights of a defendant charged with driving under the influence (DUI) of marijuana. In City of Seattle v. Pearson (Wash. Ct. App. Feb. 29, 2016), the defendant struck a pedestrian with her car. The defendant suffered from health conditions for which she was authorized to consume medical marijuana and told police she had smoked earlier in the day. After the defendant performed field sobriety tests, the police officer arrested the defendant on suspicion of driving under the influence. The officer then transported the defendant to a hospital for a blood draw without her consent or a warrant, two hours after the accident had occurred. The test determined a THC concentration of approximately 20 nanograms.

Both the U.S. and Washington State constitutions provide protection against unreasonable searches, including the intrusion into a person’s body to draw blood. Absent a recognized exception, a warrantless blood draw is unlawful. An exception may exist in the case of exigent circumstances, in instances where acquiring a warrant is not realistic because the delay that occurs in the pursuit of securing a warrant would adversely affect factors such as an officer’s safety, enable escape, or allow for the destruction of evidence. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of the blood test after finding that exigent circumstances existed to justify the warrantless blood test.

The appeals court noted that, generally, the natural dissipation of THC in a defendant’s bloodstream will amount to an exigency that is sufficient to waive the warrant requirement only where the party seeking to introduce evidence of a warrantless blood test can show that it would lead to the ultimate result of losing evidence that reflects the defendant’s intoxication if the process of obtaining a warrant is postponed or otherwise delayed. The court found that the prosecution failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that a warrant could not have been obtained in a reasonable time before the evidence dissipated. The court went on to explain that because the prosecution failed to show that obtaining a warrant would have significantly delayed collecting a blood sample, the natural dissipation of THC in the defendant’s bloodstream alone did not constitute an exigency sufficient to bypass the warrant requirement. Accordingly, the court concluded that the warrantless blood draw was not justified under the exigent circumstances exception.

The defendant also argued that the court erred in allowing testimony of the per se legal THC limit, as the law did not exist at the time of the accident. The appeal court agreed, finding that the evidence was irrelevant and admitted in error. The appeals court went on to reverse the defendant’s DUI conviction.

Seeking representation from an experienced and trustworthy defense attorney can be beneficial in fighting criminal charges. The Seattle DUI attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC are dedicated to defending clients who have been charged with criminal offenses in Washington, including drug and alcohol related offenses. To speak with one of our skilled attorneys regarding your case, contact our office at (206) 622-6562 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Washington Court Holds That Defendant’s Previous Conviction Elevates DUI to Felony Charge, Seattle Attorneys Blog, published September 15, 2015

Washington Supreme Court Finds No Alternative Means to Commit DUI Under Prior Statute, Seattle Attorneys Blog, published January 20, 2016

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