What Evidence Can Authorities Search Your Blood For in the Context of Criminal Vehicular Operation?
A recent Minnesota Supreme Court decision, State v. Fawcett, No. A15-0938, (Minn. Aug. 24, 2016), held that probable cause supported the search of Defendant’s blood and the search permitted testing for both alcohol and controlled substances. To fully understand the impact of this decision we must first look at the requirements for a search warrant and then examine how they apply to the facts of this case.
Search Warrant Requirements
Under the Fourth Amendment, search warrants must be issued by a neutral and detached magistrate (judge) who determines whether probable cause exists. Therefore, in order to obtain a warrant, law enforcement officers must show that there is probable cause to believe a search is justified. Officers must support this showing with sworn statements (affidavits). The affidavits must describe in particularity the place they will search and the items they will seize.
State v. Fawcett
The two issues in Fawcett were: (1) whether there was probable cause to search Defendant’s blood for controlled substances under the warrant; and (2) whether the search warrant satisfied the particularity clause. In other words, whether it particularly described the items to be seized.
The State charged Defendant with criminal vehicular operation, what is now Minn. Stat. § 609.2113, subd. 2(2), for injuring a person while driving a motor vehicle in a negligent manner while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. Defendant caused a vehicle accident injuring the other driver. The police arrived and while interacting with Defendant, the officers smelled alcohol on her breath, and she admitted that she had consumed “two to three beers” earlier. While she was being transported the hospital the officers applied for a search warrant.
The search warrant called for a search of Defendant’s blood for “evidence of the crime of criminal vehicular operation/homicide.” The supporting affidavit specifically stated:
[Defendant] admitted to the officers that she was driving and had been drinking prior to the crash. From their investigation, officers formed the belief that at the time of the collision … [Defendant] was the driver and was under the influence of alcohol. [Defendant] admitted to responding officers that she had two or three drinks just prior to the crash, she smelled of an alcoholic beverage and it was apparent to officers on-scene that she had been drinking. Based on the above-described facts, the detective sought a blood sample of [Defendant] as evidence of the crime of criminal vehicular operation/homicide.
The search warrant was ultimately issued and the Defendant’s blood sample taken. Interestingly, the preliminary breath test (PBT) taken right before the blood draw should .000 blood-alcohol concentration (BAC). Later, the results of the blood test also showed a .000 BAC. Defendant’s blood sample was tested again, this time for the presence of controlled substances. The result indicated the presence of THC (marijuana).
Minnesota Supreme Court
Defendant first argued that there was no probable cause to test her blood for controlled substances because the affidavit only referenced the presence of alcohol. The Court stated that the warrant application supported testing for controlled substances because the warrant did not specify the type of testing and it was not limited by its reference to “alcohol only.” The warrant application stated that it was apparent that Defendant was impaired, therefore it was not unreasonable for the judge to infer that the impairment may have been caused by alcohol and/or drugs.
Defendant next argued that the search warrant was overbroad and did not particularly describe the items to be seized. Specifically, she argued that that the warrant allowed for a general search of her blood raising privacy concerns based on the amount of information available in a person’s blood. The Court concluded that the facts established probable cause to believe evidence of criminal vehicular operation would be found in Defendant’s blood, whether that be alcohol, controlled substances, or a combination of the two. The search of Defendant’s blood was limited to tests that would reveal evidence of the crime of criminal vehicular operation/homicide only. Considering the circumstances, as well as the nature of a criminal vehicular operation offense, the warrant met minimal constitutional standards for particularity.
Sieben & Cotter Can Help With Your Case
If you have been charged with vehicular operation, drunk driving or another type of vehicle crime, you face a harsh sentence if found guilty. In such cases, there are several defense strategies to pursue. We can work to show that you were not at fault for vehicular operation homicide or manslaughter, or, if prosecution’s case hinges on alcohol or drug tests, we will work to invalidate those results. Whatever your situation, we will build a case based on the details of your particular story.
Call Sieben & Cotter at 651-455-1555 or send a request for more information and to arrange your free consultation.