Here I go again (perhaps on my own) with another update on the state of implied consent after Missouri v. McNeely, __ U.S. __, 133 S. Ct. 1552 (2013). These updates occur more often than teeth-cleanings and may be awaited with the same degree of anticipation. But given that there’s a split of authority developing between the states, and North Carolina courts have not yet weighed in, I think these are developments worth following.
I admit that I may have a problem. I am dedicated to (perhaps obsessed with) the pursuit of a legal theory that satisfactorily squares the doctrine of implied consent with the Fourth Amendment. A thousand Westlaw searches later, I have yet to find analysis such an analysis by a court. So I was a little surprised when the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit explained earlier this summer that the Supreme Court determined more than thirty years ago in South Dakota v. Neville, 459 U.S. 553 (1983), that implied consent testing carried out under threat of license revocation comported with the Fourth Amendment. Did I miss something?
Don’t call the School of Government next week. We’ll all be out. Next week is conference-time for many of the court officials we serve, and we will be traversing the state (driving the speed limit at all times, of course) to speak at various legal conferences. Case updates are a perennial staple of these conference agendas, so I’ve been reviewing last year’s cases with a particular focus on impaired driving. A number of opinions address issues that are frequently litigated in DWI cases, so I thought I’d share the highlights with you in a two-part post. This post reviews the past year’s jurisprudence on implied consent testing and compelled blood draws. Tomorrow’s post will review the recent case law on reasonable suspicion and probable cause for DWI.
In most DWI cases, the State obtains evidence of a defendant’s alcohol concentration from a breath-testing machine. In order for the results of such a breath test to be admissible at trial, the State must follow the procedures set forth in the implied consent statutes, G.S. 20-16.2 and G.S. 20-139.1. Those statutes require, among other things, that a suspect be advised of his right to refuse testing and the consequences of such a refusal and that he be afforded an opportunity to contact a witness to observe the testing. Less frequently, a law enforcement officer will request that a person charged with an implied consent offense such as impaired driving submit to a blood test. Like the breath test results, the analysis of the defendant’s blood sample obtained pursuant to such a request is admissible at trial only if the State follows the procedures set forth in the implied consent statutes. If the request for a blood test follows an earlier request for a breath test, then the officer must re-advise the suspect of his implied consent rights before asking for consent. None of these rules apply, however, when blood is withdrawn pursuant to a search warrant.
Prosecuting impaired drivers in Georgia just got a little bit harder. The Georgia Supreme Court held last week in Williams v. State, __ S.E.2d __ (Ga. 2015) that the mere fact that a DUI suspect agreed to allow officers to withdraw his blood–after being told that Georgia law required him to submit to testing and that his driver’s license would be revoked for a year if he refused–did not establish the sort of voluntary consent necessary to excuse the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. Is this a watershed moment in implied consent law?
Myra Lynne Combs beat her DWI charges in court. The trial court held that the officer who stopped her didn’t have a lawful reason to do so. So the trial court suppressed all the evidence resulting from the stop, and the State dismissed the charges. But Combs’ license was revoked for a year anyway based on her refusal to submit to a breath test after she was arrested. Combs didn’t think that was right, so she took her case to the state court of appeals.
Most people stopped on suspicion of impaired driving would rather avoid the trip to the police station. Some suspects attempt to dispel officers’ suspicions by answering questions about whether they have been drinking and how much they’ve had to drink. Others perform field sobriety tests. A few cut right to the chase, demanding that officers transport them immediately to the station for breath testing. That way, the person who is not impaired by alcohol can resolve the encounter without the indignity–and the record–that accompanies arrest.
The Chatham County sheriff’s deputy who arrested Ronald McCrary in Siler City for impaired driving at 7:34 p.m. on December 28, 2010 decided that if McCrary was taken to the hospital, he would obtain a sample of his blood without a warrant. McCrary was in fact taken to a nearby hospital—at his insistence—where he refused to cooperate with the medical staff and refused to consent to the withdrawal of his blood. Once the hospital discharged McCrary at 9:13 p.m., several officers restrained him while hospital staff withdrew his blood. Was the blood draw legal?
The United States Supreme Court held in Missouri v. McNeely, 133 S. Ct. 1552 (2013), that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every impaired driving case that justifies a warrantless, nonconsensual blood draw. In so holding, the court rejected the state’s call for a categorical rule—based solely on the evanescent nature of alcohol—that would authorize warrantless blood draws over a defendant’s objection whenever an officer has probable cause to believe the defendant has been driving while impaired. Some states have continued to argue, however, that nonconsensual warrantless blood draws in impaired driving cases are categorically permissible based on implied consent laws enacted by their state legislatures. Two state supreme courts recently rejected such arguments, holding that implied consent statutes in Nevada and Idaho that do not allow a driver to withdraw consent to testing are unconstitutional. That reasoning might be applied to invalidate the provision of North Carolina’s implied consent law that categorically allows the warrantless testing of unconscious drivers.
State v. Granger, decided last week, is the latest case in which the North Carolina Court of Appeals has considered, in light of Missouri v. McNeely, __ U.S. __, 133 S.Ct. 1552 (2013), whether an exigency supported the warrantless withdrawal of an impaired driving suspect’s blood over the person’s objection. Readers may recall that the … Read more