A DUI case in South Dakota has gone from routine to potentially altering police practice in that state.  A South Dakota man convicted of driving under the influence in 2008 is appealing that decision to the state’s highest court, claiming that police acted unconstitutionally when they collected blood evidence.  It is common practice in South Dakota for arresting officers to draw blood from suspected intoxicated drivers in order to test the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) level. Police take a blood sample at the time of the arrest before the alcohol can dissipate in the bloodstream.  This practice is designed to ensure a more accurate BAC at the time of the arrest.  A driver’s BAC level reveals whether they have reached the legal limit to drive, which is 0.08%.

Donovan Siers was arrested and charged with a DUI in 2008.  Following the arrest, police asked Siers for a blood sample, which he refused.  Siers alleges that police then restrained him in a chair and forcibly took a blood sample for BAC testing. According to the blood test, Siers’ BAC level was nearly three times the legal limit. He was subsequently charged and convicted for driving under the influence of alcohol.  Siers has been serving time in prison since his trial, his third DUI related conviction.

Did police act unconstitutionally when they took Siers’ blood without his consent and without a warrant?  This is the issue that went before the South Dakota Supreme Court in March 2014.  Siers claims that since the officers did not have his consent, they should have sought a warrant for his blood before taking it.  The reason Siers is appealing his 2008 conviction stems from a 2013 United States Supreme Court ruling.  In Missouri v. McKneely, the U.S. Supreme Court held that if police cannot get the suspect’s consent for a blood draw, they must generally get a warrant to obtain the blood.   The ruling states that even though alcohol dissipates into the bloodstream over time that is not urgent enough to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant (or consent) in most cases.  The ruling in the McKneely case has had a widespread effect on DUI cases around the country since 2013.  Siers is arguing that the decision should be applied retroactively to his 2008 conviction.

The South Dakota Attorney General’s office is defending the officers’ actions to take Siers’ blood without his consent or a warrant.  The Attorney General argued that because the McKneely decision was handed down years after Siers’ conviction, the decision cannot apply to Siers’ case.  South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley defended police practices, stating, “If you drive on our roads in South Dakota and you give actions that give rise to a belief, or probable cause, that you’ve been drinking you have to subject yourself to a blood test.  That’s what our legislature and governor have put into law.”  Jackley claims that if the South Dakota Supreme Court applies the McKneely decision retroactively, it could affect hundreds of cases similar to Siers.’  A decision is expected from the South Dakota Supreme Court later this year.

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