Do the Police Need a Warrant for a DUI Blood Test If I’m Unconscious?

Legally reviewed by:
Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.
September 12, 2023

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in April 2020 concluded that police are not allowed to withdraw blood to measure blood alcohol content (BAC) without permission unless they have a warrant to do so. If you’re unconscious, police must first acquire a search warrant before they can draw your blood for a DUI (driving under the influence) test. There are only a few emergencies when law enforcement may take blood without consent.

This PA Supreme Court ruling follows the countrywide approach to BAC tests, which are regarded as searches under the Fourth Amendment. When law enforcement breaches your Fourth Amendment rights by unlawfully searching or seizing your possessions or property—including your blood—the prosecution cannot use the findings of that search to demonstrate your guilt.

For that reason, your attorney will probably be able to have nonconsensual DUI blood test results dismissed from your case. That illustrates the impact that an experienced Montgomery County DUI lawyer can make in your case. If you face charges for a DUI in Montgomery County, PA, call DUI lawyers at Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford, P.C., as soon as possible for a free case review. Let us examine the details and assist in finding a way to restrict the evidence.

Why Are DUI Blood Tests on Unconscious Suspects Illegal Without Search Warrants?

In the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling for Pennsylvania v. Trahey, Justice David Wecht draws upon two sets of laws:

  • Implied Consent Law: Drivers in Pennsylvania are considered to have permitted chemical BAC tests when suspected of DUI. However, they may revoke this consent and instead accept administrative penalties that include suspension of their driver’s license. Because of this law, when a motorist is unconscious, it does not imply that they rescind their implied consent, which is an unrestricted right.
  • S. & Pennsylvania Constitutions: Both the state and federal Constitutions forbid unreasonable searches and seizures. Taking blood from an unconscious person without a warrant in situations where acquiring a warrant was possible represents an unreasonable and consequently unlawful search.

It’s crucial to take into account two matters about this court ruling. First, law enforcement may still take your blood if you’re unconscious or gather evidence against you through other methods. Your defense attorney is responsible for holding law enforcement accountable and having the unlawful evidence removed from the case by submitting a motion to suppress.

Second, there may be some conditions in which law enforcement may lawfully draw blood without a search warrant or your permission.

When Can Police Draw Blood Without a Search Warrant in Pennsylvania?

Under the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Missouri v. McNeely, withdrawing a person’s blood is considered a search under the Fourth Amendment. However, the Supreme Court limited reasonable searches to the following circumstances:

  • The accused agrees to the search
  • A judge approves the search by issuing a warrant
  • Law enforcement faces exigent circumstances that validate the search

In a DUI investigation, exigent circumstances imply the impending destruction of evidence.

In Missouri v. McNeely, the Supreme Court ruled that the diffusion of alcohol in a person’s system does not necessarily represent an exigent circumstance, although it debatably involves the destruction of evidence. There is no definitive rule concerning when law enforcement may take your blood without a warrant when you are unconscious. Instead, judges approve these searches on a case-by-case basis.

Hire Skilled DUI Defense Lawyers If Police Took Your Blood in a Pennsylvania DUI Case

If you were charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania after the police took your blood without your consent or because you were unconscious after a crash, you will need a compelling and experienced DUI lawyer advocating for your best interests at your side.

At Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford, P.C., our DUI defense team has a proven history of successfully defending countless clients against drunk driving charges. We have challenged innumerable unjustified searches and seizures to reach positive outcomes in DUI cases throughout PA.

We may potentially prove that law enforcement had sufficient opportunity to secure a warrant but neglected to do so or never should have drawn your blood to begin with. That could lead to having your DUI charge lowered or dismissed entirely. To speak with a seasoned DUI lawyer over a free consultation, complete a contact form or call at (215) 822-7575.

Legally reviewed by:
Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.
Pennsylvania Attorney's
September 12, 2023
Established in 1952 by Irwin S. Rubin, Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C. boasts over 65 years of experience serving clients throughout Pennsylvania. Renowned for its commitment to ethical representation, the firm has garnered prestigious accolades, including being named the "Best Law Firm" for its outstanding legal defense work by U.S. News & World Report. Their team of seasoned attorneys, recognized as Pennsylvania Super Lawyers and Rising Stars, brings unparalleled expertise to a wide range of legal matters, ensuring exceptional representation for individuals, families, businesses, and organizations.