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DUI Defense in Utah - Warrants

Assuming that police unconstitutionally arrest a person for DUI without probable cause, is that Fourth Amendment violation cured if the police subsequently obtain a warrant to draw blood from the suspect?

Salt Lake Davis Weber DUI LawyerRecent case decisions have caused some confusion on what effect a warrant will have on the admissibility of evidence discovered as a result of an unconstitutional search or seizure. This area of law is continually developing. If you are facing prosecution for DUI or other criminal charges in Utah, the assistance of an experienced criminal attorney is vital. Contact us today to see how we can help you.

Utah v. Strieff Analysis

The United States Supreme Court in the case of Utah v. Strieff addressed an issue similar to but distinguishable from the question of whether a warrant for a blood draw can cure an initial traffic stop that was made in violation of the Fourth Amendment. If the defense to a DUI charge is based on a Fourth Amendment violation, understanding how the opinion in Strieff can be distinguished is critical.

The facts in Strieff involved a suspect who was initially stopped by a police officer who acted without reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe a crime had occurred or was about to be committed. Following the unlawful stop and as a result of the unconstitutional detention of the suspect, the officer discovered that there was an outstanding warrant to arrest the suspect on an unrelated case. The officer proceeded to place the suspect under formal arrest and to conduct a search incident to arrest. During that search, drugs were found on the suspect. The discovery of the drugs led to the filing of new criminal charges.

Utah Criminal Lawyer - Fourth AmendmentThe Supreme Court in Strieff held that the outstanding arrest warrant was an intervening circumstance that served to attenuate the officer's initial illegal detention of the suspect. Critical to the Court's analysis was the fact that the arrest warrant in Strieff was a valid, pre-existing warrant that had nothing to do with the officer's unlawful detention of the suspect. As such, the Court held that the search conducted incident to the arrest on the pre-existing warrant was sufficiently attenuated from the initial unlawful stop. The court thus reversed the lower courts decisions that had found the search unconstitutional and had granted Strieff's motion to suppress. The search and conviction were both upheld.

Applying Strieff to DUI Defense in Utah

It is common practice for police in a Utah DUI case to obtain from the court a warrant to draw blood from a DUI suspect when that person has refused to consent to a chemical test for the detection of alcohol or drugs. Such a warrant must be supported by probable cause to believe that the person has violated one of Utah's DUI laws.

Most often, evidence to support a finding of probable cause is obtained during the police officer's interactions with and observations of a driver following a traffic stop. Statements made by the driver following the traffic stop can also contribute to the evidence supporting a probable cause finding. If the totality of the evidence supports a finding of probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed a criminal DUI violation, the court may issue a warrant allowing the police to forcibly obtain a blood sample from the suspect.

Even assuming that the warrant was validly supported by probable cause, the admissibility of the test results can still be challenged if the initial traffic stop was unconstitutional. To determine whether a constitutional challenge and motion to suppress are viable, an attorney should look closely at the initial basis for the stop, the scope of questioning by the police officer, and the duration or length of the stop. If the officers actions were not properly supported by evidence and information available to the officer at the time, then evidence found to be "fruit of the poisonous tree" can be suppressed by the court.

Some prosecutors in Utah have argued that the Supreme Court's opinion in Strieff allows a police officer in a DUI case to cure an unconstitutional traffic stop by subsequently obtaining a warrant to draw the suspect's blood. This position is not consistent with the decision in Strieff.

In a DUI case, the warrant for a blood draw is the direct result of the officer's actions in stopping, detaining, and questioning the DUI suspect. The warrant is usually only obtained following the arrest for DUI. If the initial stop was not supported by reasonable suspicion, if the scope or duration of the initial stop was unconstitutionally expanded, or if the arrest was not properly supported by probable cause, then the warrant for the blood draw is the direct result of those unconstitutional actions. The warrant itself should be viewed as fruit of that poisonous tree, and any evidence obtained as a result of the warrant should be subject to suppression..

The arrest and search incident to arrest in Strieff were approved because the arrest warrant existed previously to and independently of the unlawful detention of the suspect by police. Although the Court acknowledged that the initial detention of the suspect by police was not constitutionally supported, the Court held that the previous existence of an otherwise valid warrant was an intervening factor that cured the initial constitutional violation. The independent warrant served to attenuate the subsequent arrest and search from the initial unconstitutional detention.

In a DUI case based on an initial unconstitutional stop or detention, the warrant for a blood draw typically comes about as a direct result of the unlawful and unconstitutional detention or arrest of the suspect. The blood draw warrant is not and should not be treated as an "intervening warrant" or an "intervening circumstance." It does nothing to attenuate the connection between an unconstitutional arrest and the evidence obtained as a result of the warrant. Instead, the warrant is a direct link in the chain of unconstitutional conduct.

Finding a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Utah

Salt Lake Davis Weber Defense LawyerIf you are facing prosecution for DUI or other criminal charges in Utah, the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney can be vital to a successful defense. Contact us today to see what the right criminal lawyer can do for you.


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Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

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