Iowa Supreme Court Determines That Your Blood Has Rights

On March 6, 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the suppression of blood test results in the case of State v. Harris. At issue was whether the police officer was justified in taking a forced blood sample without the person's consent and without a warrant. The officer was acting at the direction of the County Attorney who believed that a warrant was not required. In affirming the district court ruling, the Iowa Supreme Court determined that the blood test was illegally obtained because the officer did not reasonably believe that he was "confronted with an emergency situation." The officer "never asserted the reason he ordered the warrantless blood sample was his belief that the time it would take to obtain the warrant would result in the destruction of evidence."

Iowa Code Section 321J.10A(1)determines that a warrantless non consesual blood draw may be done in certain limited circumstances. Those circumstances require all of the following before blood may be forcibly withdrawn without a warrant; (1) an arrest for operating while intoxicated, (2) which resulted in death or serious injury reasonably likely to cause death, (3) the peace officer reasonably believes that the blood drawn will produce evidence of intoxication, (4) the method used to obtain the blood is reasonable and performed in a reasonable manner by medical personnel, and (5) the peace officer reasonably believes the officer is confronted with an emergency situation in which the delay necessary to obtain a warrant threatens the destruction of evidence.

The Iowa Supreme Court reached a different conclusion in the case of State v. Johnson, 744 N.W. 2d 340 (Iowa 2008). In Johnson, it was determined that the forcible blood test results would be admissible because the prerequisites to Iowa Code Section 321J.10A(1) had been met. The Iowa Supreme Court distinguished Johnson on the grounds that "in Johnson, the officer testified he believed evidence of the blood-alcohol concentration would be destroyed if he waited to drawn blood until after a search warrant was obtained." In Harris, the officer was not able to testify that the time it would take to obtain the warrant would have resulted in the destruction of evidence, he could only testify that he was acting at the direction of the County Attorney.

There are several important aspects to be taken from this decision. First, the Court reiterated the holdings from Schmerber v. California and subsequent Iowa cases which, "requires more than the mere phenomenon of alcohol dissipation" in order to legally obtain a blood sample without a search warrant. Second, the court seemed to limit the holding in Johnson to the "special facts" of that case. Third, the court did not address whether obtaining the sample in the police department was an acceptable location for taking the blood. Fourth, the officer knowledged "that blood-alcohol levels dissipate over time and that this natural dissipation will result in he destruction of evidence" was insufficient to satify the requirements of Iowa Code Section 321J.10A(1)(c). Last and most important, is that County Attorneys are not peace officers and the peace officer must reasonably believe that he/she is confronted with a situation in which the time it would take to obtain the warrant would threaten the destruction of evidence.

A fully copy of this opinion can be viewed at