May 25, 2019

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Colorado Supreme Court Upholds Statutes Pertaining to DUIs

In mid-April, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that DUI-related statutes still stand despite three separate cases where warrantless blood draw evidence was excluded by lower courts. In one case, a suspect was found to have five times the legal limit of alcohol in his bloodstream and still the evidence was thrown out. According to Jennifer Gilbert, Arapahoe County deputy district attorney, “If this had been allowed to stand, it could have invalidated every breath or blood test that a driver in Colorado provides as part of a DUI investigation, which would obviously have huge ramifications.” 

Three Aspects, Three Cases

According to a news release from George Brauchler, Arapahoe County district attorney, the three cases each covered different aspects of the relevant Colorado statutes known as expressed consent law. According to expressed consent law, once a person starts driving a car, he or she implicitly consents to having his or her blood alcohol tested either by way of a breathalyzer or blood test. However, a police officer must have reason to believe the person has exceeded the legal limit of blood alcohol.

The Decisions

The state’s high court decided in Fitzgerald v. People that the Fourth Amendment does not prevent blood draw evidence from being submitted in the event that the accused refuses to be tested. And in People v. Hyde, the same court ruled that an officer has the authority to request a blood test if he or she believes that an unconscious driver has committed an alcohol-related offense. Lastly, in People v. Simpson, the district court decided that reading a person an expressed consent advisement made any test that followed inadmissible as evidence. However, the Colorado Supreme Court found that reading a person an expressed consent advisement does not mean that subsequent tests should be considered involuntary and thus inadmissible.

Details of the Simpson Case

The specifics of the Simpson case may supply a context that grounds the court’s decisions. In People v. Simpson, an officer witnessed William Paul Simpson drive into a curb several times before turning toward oncoming traffic. The officer claimed to smell alcohol on Simpson’s breath. Simpson even admitted that he was drunk and showed visible signs of intoxication. Later, at the hospital, Simpson was asked to sign a consent form for the blood alcohol test but when he went to sign the form he placed his signature and his initials in the wrong place. As it turned out, Simpson’s blood alcohol level was 0.448, which is more than five times the legal limit.

According to Simpson’s lawyers, he was too drunk to consent. Judge F. Stephen Collins of the Arapahoe County District Court decided that the officer coerced Simpson by telling him he already consented to a blood test. But the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Simpson’s choice to drive constituted a form of consent in itself, and “because Simpson never revoked that consent, the blood draw was constitutional.”

Conclusive Remarks

Those who contested the use of blood tests as evidence relied on recent US Supreme Court cases to make their arguments. According to Brauchler, thanks to the failure of those arguments “we have some really good law that will enable law enforcement in Colorado and across the country to continue to aggressively fight against the scourge of drunk driving.”

Defendants could take their cases to the US Supreme Court. According to Chief Deputy District Attorney Rich Orman, “I think that one or more of these defendants will likely ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review these issues.  Based on the low percentages of cases that the Supreme Court takes, the odds are against them, but you never know.” We’ll have to wait and see if this issue ends up in the highest court.

If you were charged with DUI after a nonconsensual blood draw, you should speak with an experienced DUI attorney as soon as possible.

About Sean Lally

Sean Lally holds a BA in Philosophy from Temple University where he also studied theatre for several years. Between 2007 and 2017, he worked as a professional actor for several regional theater companies in Philadelphia, including the Arden Theatre Co., EgoPo Productions, Lantern Theater and the Bearded Ladies. In 2010, Sean co-founded Found Theater Company, an avant-garde artist collective with whom he first started to cultivate an identity as a writer.

Over the past few years, Sean has been working as a content writer, focusing primarily on the ways in which unequal power distribution can negatively affect consumers, workers and “everyday people,” more broadly. He writes for a number of websites including AccidentAttorneys.org, PersonalInjury.com, AmericanLegalNews.com and others.