On Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals declared that a law allowing police officers to take blood samples from those suspected of drunk driving without first obtaining a warrant is unconstitutional, the Houston Chronicle reports.
Writing on behalf of the majority in the 5-4 decision, Judge Elsa Alcala said that "we hold that a non-consensual search of a DWI suspect's blood conducted pursuant to the mandatory-blood-draw and implied-consent provisions in the Transportation Code, when undertaken in the absence of a warrant or any applicable exception to the warrant requirement, violates the Fourth Amendment."
The case on which the court based its ruling is that of David Villarreal, who was arrested in 2012 after he refused to perform a field sobriety test. The officers took him to the hospital and had his blood drawn against his will, claiming that they were empowered to do so by a state law that requires taking the blood alcohol content of people with two or more drunk driving convictions.
At his trial, the state requested Villarreal be sentenced to 25 years in prison, given his prior convictions for drunk driving in 2001 and 2005. His attorney protested, claiming that the non-consensual, warrant-less drawing of his blood violated his client's right against unreasonable search and seizure.
The trial judge agreed, but the state appealed -- which is why the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled on the case.
The ruling means that officers will now have to possess a warrant before compelling suspected drunk drivers to submit to blood alcohol tests. Villarreal's lawyer noted, however, that this ruling will not necessarily keep his client out of jail.
"All it is, is a ruling that they cannot use the blood test that they obtained without a warrant," Fred Jimenez said. "That's all it is. They can still try my client. It's a weaker case without that evidence."