Appellate Court Ruling on Blood Testing for Drugs Likely to Affect New Jersey DWI Cases

test tubesChemical testing for alcohol or drugs is a key component of most prosecutions for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey. Breath testing is mandatory under state law, but the Alcotest and similar devices can only test for the presence of alcohol. If police suspect driving under the influence of drugs, New Jersey law provides no immediate means to obtain evidence. Drawing blood without a person’s consent requires a warrant in most circumstances. The New Jersey Appellate Division took up these issues in an appeal that challenged the admissibility of blood test results. Its ruling in State v. Nasta deals specifically with criminal charges, rather than DWI, but it is likely to affect New Jersey DWI cases in the future.

Since it involves an invasive procedure, courts have held that drawing blood as part of an investigation for DWI or another offense is a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This means that police must obtain a warrant from a judge by demonstrating that they have probable cause to believe that the search will reveal evidence of wrongdoing.

Police are not required to obtain a warrant in certain situations identified by courts as exceptions to the Fourth Amendment. One exception involves “exigent circumstances,” in which taking the time to obtain a warrant would risk greater harm than a warrantless search. The impending destruction or loss of evidence could constitute an exigent circumstance. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled in Missouri v. McNeely that the natural breakdown of alcohol by the human body is not “exigent” enough to allow a warrantless blood draw. The court has not said that a warrantless blood draw is never justified by exigent circumstances, but it has not identified what those circumstances might be.

The defendant in Nasta was charged with multiple criminal offenses, all based on her alleged operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs. According to the court’s opinion, she was driving when her vehicle collided with a light pole in August 2012. Her husband, who was in the front passenger seat, died from his injuries. Her two daughters were in the back seat and suffered serious injuries. Police stated that they suspected drugs based on the defendant’s behavior after the accident. They took a blood sample without a warrant at the hospital. An officer would later claim in court that it was “standard policy…to take blood from any surviving party where an accident results in death.”

A test of the blood sample at the New Jersey State Police Lab was “negative.” Police sent the sample to a private out-of-state lab, which tested the sample and found “morphine and ‘heroin metabolites.’” The defendant was indicted for vehicular homicide and other offenses over a year after the accident, in September 2013.

The defendant challenged the warrantless blood draw under the rule established by McNeely. The court held, however, that McNeely was not retroactive, so her blood draw in 2012 was not governed by a court decision issued in 2013. It also dismissed her challenge to the second blood test, finding that she had no “reasonable expectation of privacy in any further testing of the blood” once it was established that the initial blood draw was lawful.

If you have been charged with alleged DWI in New Jersey, DWI attorney Evan Levow can guide you through the court process and advocate for your rights. Contact us today online or at (877) 593-1717 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how our skilled and experienced team can help you.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Appellate Court Considers Warrantless Blood Draw and Credibility Questions in DWI Case, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, November 14, 2016

Judge Dismisses DWI Charge Because of Driver’s Rare Medical Condition, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, December 22, 2015

Blood Testing in New Jersey DWI Cases, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, September 24, 2015

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