SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court has ruled that a blood draw taken from a woman driver after a fatal accident will not be allowed as evidence in an automobile homicide trial, because the woman involved did not consent to the draw.
According to the decision, the issue stems from a 2004 accident in which a woman hit a motorcyclist, who later died from injuries sustained in the crash. At the scene, police asked the woman to submit to a blood draw to determine whether she had been impaired while driving. They said the woman showed no obvious signs of impairment but that determining whether alcohol or drugs were a factor in the crash is standard practice.
The woman told police she would submit a urine sample for analysis but didn't like needles. Police continued to ask her for a blood sample but did not take a urine sample, obtain a warrant for the blood sample or perform field sobriety tests, the ruling states.
A blood technician later told the woman he just wanted to see her arm to decide whether there was a good place to draw blood from, and eventually he took a sample. The woman didn't protest but did pull away and began to cry, the ruling states. The blood draw showed a blood alcohol level of .089. Under Utah law, a level of .08 is the standard for presumption of impairment from alcohol.
In court, attorneys for the woman filed a motion to suppress the blood draw evidence, saying it was taken involuntarily. The trial court moved to admit the evidence, a decision that was later reversed by the Utah Court of Appeals. The appellate court said the state didn't sufficiently prove the blood was taken voluntarily.
Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine Durham sided with the Court of Appeals in its ruling.
"We recognize that (the woman's) actions caused the death of an innocent victim," Durham wrote. "Nonetheless, the Constitution establishes a balance between security and liberty. When the government disrupts that balance by coercion and duress to overcome free and voluntary choice, we are compelled, even in grievous cases, to enforce the constitutional balance."
The decision means the case will return to the trial court to proceed "consistent" with the court's opinion.