State v. Fletcher and Warrantless Blood Draws

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I’ve blogged before about G.S. 20-139.1(d1). When a DWI arrestee refuses to submit to a test for alcohol, that section allows “any law enforcement officer with probable cause” to “compel the [arrestee, without a search warrant] to provide blood or urine samples for analysis if the officer reasonably believes that the delay necessary to obtain a court order . . . would result in the dissipation” of alcohol in the arrestee’s system.”

I argued in my prior post that in a routine refusal case, an officer should get a search warrant rather than rely on G.S. 20-139.1(d1), which should be used only when circumstances suggest that obtaining a warrant would be unusually time-consuming. Yesterday, the court of appeals decided State v. Fletcher, which confirms my basic point, but also suggests that the courts are willing to allow warrantless blood draws under circumstances that really aren’t that unusual.

The defendant in Fletcher stopped at a checkpoint and exhibited several signs of impairment. He was arrested and taken to an Intoximeter. Compressing the facts a bit, he refused to provide a sample, and the arresting officer took him to the emergency room for a warrantless blood draw, the results of which confirmed his impairment. He moved to suppress the results, arguing that there was nothing unusual about the case that justified a warrantless blood draw, but the trial court denied his motion and the court of appeals affirmed.

The appellate court noted that G.S. 20-139.1(b1) is essentially a statutory codification of the exigent circumstances exception to the search warrant requirement, as applied in the context of blood draws. And it found sufficient exigency in the following facts: (1) the magistrate’s office was 12 miles away; (2) it was often very busy on weekend evenings, meaning that a search warrant application might not be considered immediately; (3) and the emergency room was likewise often very busy on weekend evenings. The officer estimated the total delay associated with going to the magistrate’s office, procuring a warrant, and executing it to be two to three hours. It looks like the trial prosecutor did an excellent job of presenting evidence supporting each aspect of the delay.

Two things stand out about Fletcher. First, the facts here are not extremely unusual. At least for officers who regularly use Intoximeters that aren’t adjacent to a magistrate’s office, all three of the factors present in Fletcher will often be present. So although obtaining a warrant when possible remains advisable, it appears that the court has adopted an expansive view of exigent circumstances in this context. Second, the court specifically rejected the idea that the admissibility of retrograde extrapolation testimony undercuts the exigency, an argument I considered in my earlier post. All in all, it’s an important case, and one that most officers will like.

12 comments on “State v. Fletcher and Warrantless Blood Draws

  1. I have discussed this issue with several people in NC and their conclusion is it stinks. As a health care professional and an infrequent drinker and a driver who hates to see someone driveing while impaired i also agree it stinks.

  2. I think this is great. As the supervisor of the officer in this case I was somewhat involved. Since the law came out in 2006 I have been “compelling” blood draws on people who refuse and have urged my officers to do so as well, and this solidifies what we have been doing. Good job Carrie!!! and to Bill who said it stinks, all i ask is why? if you are not impaired whats the problem? it would only prove innocence. Our local hospital “health care professionals” supports the law and consider it a public service to draw the blood for us.

  3. “if you are not impaired whats the problem? it would only prove innocence.”
    Ah, the old “only the guilty use the Constitution” argument. Thank goodness these tests are never wrong! It’s the same old “show us your papers” argument that governments have used since Germany, and long before that as well.

    Why did you put “compelling” in quotes? Do you not consider it compelling? Do people not have the right to tell you “No”? “We’re from the government. We’re here to help.”

    I’m sure those “health care professionals” (again with the quotes) are more than happy to tie someone down and insert a needle into that person’s body against their will and without a court order. No risk to them at all. Praise Big Brother!

    • Spoken like a true defense attorney, T.J. Just do not ever forget my and Raymond Evans’s both swore oaths to find the truth, no matter what it is. Your oath is to do whatever it takes to get your guy off, no matter what the truth is, and no matter how the truth is distorted or hidden.

      • “Just do not ever forget my and Raymond Evans’s both swore oaths to find the truth, no matter what it is.”

        Someone report this nut to the grammar police!

        This case is just one of many that can be found on the slippery slope to fascism.

      • i don’t seem to recall either oath the way you do, Prosecutor. check them again sometime. Compelled blood draws without a warrant are, in my opinion, a Constitutionally unsound way to regulate our increasingly lawless citizenry. i understand why the legislature wants to allow this practice, but it IS unconstitutional. the only way we will ever solve the drunk driving problem is when the PEOPLE change, and that could be never. in the meantime, amend the Constitution however you like, but FOLLOW it. otherwise, its meaningless.

  4. Anyone who would argue that compelling people to give up their blood has either not taken an oath to defend the constitution and its laws or has no clue what that oath, nor constitution entails. I am pretty sure the founding fathers would be aghast at the notion that this is the state of our country and how the courts and police are being run. Any policeman that thinks it is his duty and right to compel a citizen to provide him with blood, even after said citizen asserts his miranda rights [laymen’s terms] does not deserve to wear the uniform, nor claim he is upholding the constitution. Apparently protection of the citizens has taken the double edge of protectionism against citizens.

    At the end of the day, citizens need to stand up for their own rights. They need to refuse any and all invasive actions by the state and police. The citizens are not here for the state and the police, but visa versa. It is a sad day when police see it differently.

    • OK first off miranda rights only protects you from being required to talk with the police or them interviewing you for hours it has nothing to due with a police search, second have you ever applyed for a search warrant I have they are almost never turned down except in very extreme cases.

  5. the fact is that drunk drivers can be a danger to your average driving public, but law enforcement not having the apparatus in place to expeditiously get a search warrant, especially in these cases is the problem, and you know what is going to stop all this? Healthcare providers are going to get sued and to mitigate their liability they are going to begin asking for, requiring and keeping the warrants fro blood draws. In the event their are extreme exigent circumstance the officer should be able to produce an affidavit to the healthcare provider outlining those exigent circumstances, this is about patient rights and whether healthcare providers should comply, regardless of warrant status, with law enforcement. The federal government considers warrant-less blood draws “battery”, most healthcare providers insurance don’t cover battery, so as more and more people sue the healthcare providers they will stop complying with the requests of law enforcement. The biggest problem with law enforcement is that they are undereducated, generally from the lower socio-economic strata and they view their job as, “us versus them”, this mentality becomes self fulfilling, i would never eat out in my uniform, that’s all I’m saying, “your employers, the public, are fed up with the police state, law enforcement is an institution of fear bent on collecting taxes for a broke government.

  6. Shouldn’t you update this after Missouri v McNeely?

  7. […] Check out this post about a recent court of appeals case in this […]

  8. […] in the defendant’s blood (cf. State v. Fletcher, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Jan. 19, 2010), discussed here), an officer may be able to obtain blood for analysis without a search warrant pursuant to the […]

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