Thursday, September 4, 2014

Minnesota DWI Lawyer Blogs on Minnesota DWI: This Week's Featured Minnesota DWI Case

The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is State v. Stavish, (Issued September 2, 2014, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Published) which stands for the proposition that when a police officer is responsible for procuring a blood sample from an individual who has stated that he was the driver of a vehicle involved in a probable criminal vehicular homicide and who has already been transported to a hospital, exigent circumstances exist that justify the police officer's procuring the blood sample without a search warrant.  

This case is nonsense as under the facts of this case, the court will always find exigency.

On 18 June 2012, law-enforcement agencies and an ambulance were summoned to the site of a one-vehicle rollover crash in Nicollet County. When they arrived, they saw a truck with numerous beer cans in and around it; a dead body later identified as that of B.L.; and respondent Derek Stavish, who needed medical attention. Respondent said that he had been driving.

A state patrol sergeant arrived after the ambulance left. He was instructed to obtain a blood sample from respondent and told that respondent was on his way to the New Ulm hospital in Brown County and might be airlifted to a more distant trauma center. The sergeant drove to the hospital, where he found respondent conscious and receiving care. At 11:18 p.m., the sergeant asked hospital staff to take a blood sample from respondent

The test of the sample showed respondent's blood-alcohol count (BAC) to be .20. Respondent was charged with three counts of criminal vehicular operation resulting in death, two counts of fourth-degree driving while impaired, one count of reckless driving, and one count of careless driving.

About 10 months later, in April 2013, the Supreme Court released Missouri v. McNeely, 133 S. Ct. 1552 (2013) (holding that metabolization of alcohol in the bloodstream is not per se an exigent circumstance that justifies the warrantless taking of blood samples and that exigency must be determined based on the totality of the circumstances). Respondent then moved to suppress the evidence of his BAC, alleging that the blood sample had been taken without a warrant in violation of McNeely.

The district court suppressed the test result on the ground that the exigent-circumstances exception to the warrant requirement did not apply.

On Appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed, stating:

"In drunk-driving investigations, the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant." McNeely, 133 S. Ct. at 1568. The district court relied on this language and determined that "the [s]tate [had] not carried its burden of proving the existence of exigent circumstances that justified [the sergeant's] ordering the blood draw [from respondent] without a warrant." But McNeely does not hold that "the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream" is never an exigent circumstance; it rather holds "that exigency in [the drunk-driving] context must be determined case by case based on the totality of the circumstances".

"Here, the sergeant was faced with a probable criminal vehicular homicide in one county, a probable perpetrator in need of medical treatment who had been transported to a hospital in another county, and the possibility that the perpetrator would be airlifted to a trauma center in a third county. Because BAC must be measured within two hours of the time of driving, see Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 1(5) (2012), and because the medical treatment respondent would receive at the hospital could affect or invalidate his BAC, the sergeant was under time pressure to obtain respondent's blood sample. He was finally able to do so at 11:18 p.m., 50 minutes after law enforcement was first notified of the accident, and thus more than 50 minutes after the time respondent was driving."

"Unlike the situation in McNeely, several significant factors together with the inherent evanescence of BAC evidence indicate that exigent circumstances existed to procure a sample of respondent's blood without a warrant."

The problem with the Court of Appeals Ruling is it fails to identify any medical procedure that would effect the BAC and  the passage 50 minutes does not "an exigency make".  The officer had plenty of time to obtain a telephone search warrant under the 2 hour rule and the Appellate Court's failure to uphold the district court bodes ill for the Fourth Amendment search warrant requirement. 

F.T. Sessoms, Minnesota DWI Attorney, Minnesota DUI Lawyer, Minneapolis DWI Attorney, Minneapolis DUI Lawyer