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A search warrant to have your blood tested after a fatal crash is legal even if you don't consent, court says

The Supreme Judicial Court today gave prosecutors permission to use results of alcohol tests on blood drawn from a man charged with killing another driver while driving with a blood-alcohol content that tested four times the legal limit.

An attorney for Bradley Zucchino, charged with slamming his car into an SUV in North Andover in 2020, killing the other driver, had argued that the test results should be tossed because Zucchino never consented and state OUI law requires consent.

But in its ruling, the state's highest court said the consent law very clearly only applies to simple OUI, not cases in which an alleged drunk driver maims or kills somebody else.

The justices rejected the argument that the consent requirement was implied in worse cases on the theory that even in a deadly crash, at its heart, the driver was still charged with simply being drunk at the wheel. The court said that if legislators had wanted the consent requirement to apply in such cases, they would have said so explicitly, just as they explicitly said it applies just to simple OUI, the court said, adding:

Given the Legislature's interest in reducing serious injury and loss of life due to impaired driving, it is well within the purview of the Legislature to treat simple OUI and aggravated OUI offenses differently, including with regard to the admissibility of evidence.

Following the crash, Zucchino was brought to a nearby hospital, where his blood was drawn as part of his treatment:

The next day, law enforcement applied for, obtained, and executed a search warrant to collect the defendant's blood samples to perform a BAC test. A chemist determined that the defendant's BAC on the night of the accident was between .322 and .326 percent.

The legal limit in Massachusetts is 0.08 percent.

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Comments

…. blood alcohol content be able to give legal consent anyway?

The blood test was needed for his treatment. The court ruled fairly.
Now take away his driver’s license permanently.

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The blood test having been needed for his treatment is not a great argument. We have a pretty well developed concept that your medical records are private and that the state isn’t entitled to them. There’s also the core concept of bodily autonomy: the cops aren’t allowed to take your blood by force, although once the blood is out of your body, arguably, body autonomy no longer applies. The question here is, should the objective of getting dangerous drunks off the road trump the idea of medical privacy? Because once you allow the cops into your medical records there’s no going back. I could easily argue either side of this one: “it’s not a medical record; it’s physical evidence.”

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Courts have ruled that cops can get warrants for body cavity searches (done by medical staff of course). Many states can require drivers to give their blood to cops without a warrant as well. MA is not one of those states obviously.

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Your knowledge and explanations of police matters are always appreciated.

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I have no knowledge of appropriate reasons for blood draws for medical needs. Possibly the staff had concerns about the possibility of intoxicants other than alcohol or what level he was at before administering antidotes.

In any case, he was in no shape to give informed consent to the draw as he was incapacitated and presumably a health care proxy was not available or non existent. So the lawyer’s argument is moot.

It’a always wise to be careful with police and privacy issues and possibly setting precedents so that needed to be considered.

I’m sure the judges weighed all of these and I find despite my own concerns about police powers, I’m glad of how they ruled in this particular case.

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Exigent circumstances almost always permit a warrantless blood test where the driver
is unconscious. Mitchell v. Wisconsin, 139 S.Ct. 2525 (2019) (Mitchell was arrested for OUI
after a preliminary breath test registered a BAC that was triple the legal limit; the arresting
officer drove Mitchell to a police station for a more reliable breath test using evidence-grade
equipment; by the time Mitchell reached the station, he was too lethargic for a breath test,
so the officer drove him to a nearby hospital for a blood test; Mitchell was unconscious by
the time he arrived, but his blood was drawn anyway; exigency existed because the BAC
evidence was dissipating and the driver's unconsciousness was, itself, a medical emergency
taking priority over a warrant application).

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you're going to have a bad time."

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Hope for answers to all loved ones of victims suffering from heartbreak and all levels of grief caused by drunk drivers killing people. Judges, and MassRMV, please aggressively enforce this as evidence toward delivery justice and closure for us.

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Why the focus on the BAC number?

The most important thing is that this person caused a fatal crash. Next is the fact that they’re visibly impaired. With both of those facts, the blood test shouldn’t even be necessary to convict them.

But is.
Considering the shocking leniency of many judges and juries towards dangerous drivers. And the public’s apathy and acceptance of the status quo.

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And BAC is science (for the most part).

People who have medical conditions (heart attacks, dizzy spells, seizures, diabetics, etc) are involved in a lot of crashes and are also "impaired." But these drivers did not choose to drive drunk like your drunk driver does.

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