DUI enforcement

Gilbert police process and fingerprint a driver arrested for alleged DUI at the East Valley DUI Task Force staging area outside the Southeast Superior Court facility in Mesa on St. Patricks Day. March 17, 2010. (File photo)

Ralph Freso

Police cannot use the state's traffic laws to draw blood from suspected drunk drivers without a warrant absent their specific permission at the time of the test, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled last week.

In a unanimous decision Thursday, the justices rejected the contention by the Pima County Attorney's Office that all Arizona motorists give "implied consent'' to having blood, breath or urine tests as a condition to be licensed to drive. They said that means, absent a clear -- and voluntary -- consent immediately prior to the blood draw, it is an illegal search without a warrant.

In a wide-ranging ruling, the high court also said that the ability of juveniles to give that voluntary consent is not absolute -- and not the same as an adult. Justice Scott Bales, writing for the court, said a trial judge must consider all the factors, including the age of the suspect and the failure to notify parents.

But the justices refused to rule that the absence of a juvenile's parents automatically means any consent is not voluntary.

Thursday's ruling most immediately means that charges of driving under the influence of drugs will be dropped against the youth, identified in court records only as Tyler B. because he was 16 at the time of the arrest.

But he is not out of the legal woods yet. Deputy County Attorney Nicolette Kneut said Tyler, who has since turned 18, still faces charges of possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia in justice court as an adult.

Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall said Thursday's ruling will complicate the job that police statewide are required to do. She said the high court has provided no guidance.

"How is the officer supposed to know whether or not it's been an express consent,'' she said. "It just makes it really, really tough because there isn't any bright line.''

LaWall said the ruling means that her office will advise police to get a court-ordered warrant whenever possible before drawing blood, even when a motorist -- and now, especially a juvenile -- gives approval for a blood draw. That, she said, eliminates any possibility of having that consent later ruled involuntary.

According to court records, Tyler and two friends arrived late to school. A school monitor smelled marijuana on the boys and also saw drug paraphernalia in Tyler's car.

The boys were detained in separate rooms while sheriff's deputies were contacted.

A deputy read Tyler his Miranda warnings against self-incrimination and the right to an attorney. But the court files said that Tyler, in the presence of several school officials, admitted he had driven his car to school after smoking marijuana and that he owned some of the paraphernalia in the car.

When the deputy placed Tyler under arrested, the youth became agitated and was placed in handcuffs while the deputy retrieved a blood-draw kit from his car.

On returning, he saw Tyler had calmed down and he removed the cuffs. He then read Tyler from the law which says that Arizona motorists must consent to blood or other tests and that refusal will result in automatic suspension of driving privileges.

Tyler agreed verbally and in writing to the blood draw. But when the case went to court, Tyler argued his consent was not voluntary and that, as a minor, he lacked capacity to consent.

When the court commissioner agreed and suppressed the evidence, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Bales said the issue has never been decided in Arizona.

Bales rejected arguments by prosecutors that "implied consent'' law means there is no need to determine whether a consent at the time of the blood draw is voluntary.

"A compelled blood draw, even when administered pursuant to (the implied consent law) is a search subject to the Fourth Amendment's constraints,'' he wrote for the court. "Such an invasion of bodily integrity implicates an individual's most personal and deep-rooted expectations of privacy.''

He said the law says only that an officer must ask a suspect to submit to the test -- and that if a person refuses, a warrant is needed and the suspect's licenses is suspended.

Bales said a motorist can allow a warrantless search "provided the consent is voluntary.'' But that, he said has to be decided by a court based on all the circumstances, including the suspect's age -- and even whether a parent is present.

In this case, Bales wrote, the court commissioner was correct in ruling that, based on the evidence she had, Tyler's consent was not voluntary.

He said Tyler was detained for about two hours in a room in the presence of school officials and a deputy, without his parents.

"Tyler initially was shaking and visibly nervous,'' Bales wrote, and placed in handcuffs until he calmed down. And he said that the law read to him about "implied consent'' ended with the statement, "You are, therefore, required to submit to the specified tests.''

It was only then, Bales said, Tyler consented to the blood draw.

Thursday's ruling drew a special comment from Justice John Pelander. He said his own review of the evidence leads him to believe Tyler did voluntarily consent.

But Pelander said Arizona law requires he and the other justices not to reweigh the evidence, but only to consider whether the court commissioner abused her discretion in suppressing the evidence.

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