Warrantless Blood Test Requires a Remand

State v. Chavez-Majors, No. 115,286 (Kan. Dec. 20, 2019).

Issue: Was there probable cause to administer a warrantless blood test on an unconscious driver suspect of a drunk-driving offense?

Answer:  Yes, there was probable cause to administer a warrantless blood test under the circumstances. In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Mitchell v. Wisconsin, a re-examination of exigent circumstances was necessary.

Facts: Park Ranger Burt arrived at the scene of a motorcycle accident. He found Chavez-Majors injured and unresponsive.  Burt smelled alcohol on Chavez-Majors’ breath.  Burt requested a blood test because he suspected Chavez-Majors had been driving while intoxicated.  There was no warrant for the blood draw.  The blood sample revealed a blood alcohol level of 0.14.  

Chavez-Majors moved to suppress the blood test as an unreasonable Fourth Amendment search.  The district court denied the motion, finding the search reasonable.  Chavez-Majors was convicted of aggravated battery while driving under the influence.  The appellate court affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress.  Chavez-Majors appealed the affirmation of the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress.  

Discussion:  After the Kansas Court of Appeals ruled and Chavez-Majors had submitted his petition for review to the Kansas Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court issued their decision on Mitchell v. Wisconsin, similarly concerning warrantless blood test on unconscious drivers. In Mitchell, the Supreme Court held that when police have probable cause to believe a drunk-driving offense was committed and the unconsciousness driver requires immediate hospitalization, the police “may almost always order a warrantless blood test to measure the driver’s BAC without offending the Fourth Amendment.”

Here, the two issues were probable cause and exigent circumstances.  The Kansas Supreme Court affirm the lower court’s decision regarding probable cause, but remanded the case for a suppression hearing to consider, under the change in law created by Mitchell, whether exigent circumstances supported the warrantless blood draw.  

Key Authorities:  

State v. Chavez-Majors, 402 P.3d 1168 (Kan. App. 2017). 

Mitchell v. Wisconsin, 139 S. Ct. 2525 (2019).

Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757 (1966).

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