The Limits of Consent in a California DUI Case and How Those Limits May Entitle You to the Suppression of Test Results

When law enforcement pull you over on suspicion of drunk driving, there are certain things they can do and certain things they cannot do. There are certain rules, for example, regarding when they can take your blood or breath for analysis. Even once you consent, there are limits to how they can use the sample you provide. If law enforcement goes beyond those limits, you may be entitled to an order that suppresses certain evidence in your criminal trial. An experienced San Francisco DUI attorney can help you make sure that your rights are fully protected in your case.

A recent case from Southern California is an example of how these protections can help you. In 2016, law enforcement officers stopped a woman named Aubree. The officer arrested Aubree for driving under the influence of alcohol. After he made the stop, he gave the driver the required admonishment regarding breath testing and blood testing. Regarding the blood test option, he told the woman that two vials of blood would be drawn, that one would go to the county crime lab for testing, and that the second vial would be “held at no cost to you.” The officer also explained that there was no way “to retain any kind of a sample for retesting” with the breath test option. Aubree consented to a blood test.

What happened next may have surprised Aubree. The state charged her not with driving while drunk but with driving while under the combined influence of drugs and alcohol. The crime lab had determined that Aubree’s blood alcohol level was above the legal limit, but the police later sent the second vial to an outside lab, which performed a drug screen, and that test yielded a positive result.

Wisely, Aubree’s attorney contested the drug screening result. The defense asserted that, since the charge for which the officer arrested the woman was driving under the influence of alcohol, the woman’s consent to the blood test was only for the purpose of blood alcohol content analysis, rather than screening for drugs. The argument persuaded the trial judge, and the judge allowed in the alcohol results but suppressed the evidence that regarded the positive test result for drugs as outside the scope of the driver’s consent.

The state appealed but lost. The state argued, without success, that since the driver did not say, “I consent but only to testing for alcohol,” her consent was unlimited, and the drug screening result was admissible. The facts did not match this argument, as the appeals court pointed out. The officer stopped Aubree for driving drunk, arrested her for driving drunk, and offered her the option of a breath test (which can only be screened for alcohol content) or a “blood test for alcohol.” Both the officer and the driver understood that the consent that the officer was seeking pertained solely to alcohol. It was the officer “who limited the scope of the search,” and the driver had no legal obligation to place explicit and specific conditions or limitations on her consent, according to the court.

Both federal and state laws have specific protections regarding searches and seizures. If the search in your case was illegal, you may be able to keep harmful evidence out of your case. The experienced San Francisco DUI defense attorneys at Uthman Law Office have been providing detail-oriented and reliable service to our clients for many years. Attorney David Uthman has over 20 years of experience as a litigation attorney and almost a decade of experience as a police officer. Put our knowledge of the law and the system to work for you. Call us today at (415) 556-9200 to schedule your FREE initial consultation to get the help you need.

More blog posts:

How the Fourth Amendment May Help You Keep a Warrantless Blood Test’s Results out of Your California DUI Case, San Francisco Criminal Lawyer Blog, March 6, 2018

How a Lack of ‘Free and Voluntary’ Consent Can Help You Get Your Blood Test Results Thrown Out of Your California DUI Case, San Francisco Criminal Lawyer Blog, Feb. 27, 2018

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