Arizona Supreme Court limits DUI law on taking blood samples

PHOENIX — An Arizona Supreme Court ruling Thursday said police can’t have blood samples taken from an unconscious DUI suspect without obtaining a search warrant or facing urgent circumstances beyond the natural dissipation of alcohol in blood.

The ruling weighed the constitutionality of a state law allowing warrantless blood draws in suspected DUI cases in which a driver is dead, unconscious or otherwise incapable of refusing to grant permission.

The Arizona high court said its 3-2 decision tracks a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on warrantless blood draws and Fourth Amendment privacy rights of DUI suspects.

The decision said a Mohave County judge erred in refusing to bar use of a blood sample taken from a man after a 2012 crash because state troopers could have obtained a warrant but didn’t get one. Still, the so-called “unconscious clause” in Arizona law can apply under “exigent circumstances,” it said.

Technology makes it possible to quickly obtain warrants by phone and other means and there was nothing known about the Mohave County case that justified a warrantless blood draw, Justice Clint Bolick wrote in the ruling.

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“It is true that alcohol dissipation starts a fast time clock … but additional facts are necessary to show it was not feasible to obtain a search warrant during that time frame,” Bolick wrote.

The state Supreme Court’s chief justice last year authorized Maricopa County Superior Court to issue electronic search warrants in DUI and vehicular manslaughter cases statewide following a two-year-old pilot project in Maricopa County.

The court’s ruling Thursday sent Don Jacob Havatone’s case back to Mohave County Superior Court to consider another legal issue.

Havatone is serving concurrent sentences of 17½ years in prison on convictions for aggravated assault, felony DUI on a suspended license and other crimes stemming from a nearly head-on collision on Route 66 near Kingman.

A trooper found Havatone lying on the pavement behind his SUV. Court records said Havatone acknowledged being the driver but then was unresponsive before he was transported to a hospital where his blood was drawn at the trooper’s request.

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