In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut granted a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence, because the State did not show exigent circumstances allowing the warrantless seizure.
This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 15, 2003. The defendant was involved in an automobile accident, resulting in the death of the other driver. He was transported to a nearby hospital where, without a warrant, police requested that his blood be drawn. One of the officers unaware of this order was informed of that the blood had been drawn, so he elected to not perform the field sobriety and chemical alcohol tests. Five days later, police applied for and was granted a warrant for the blood toxicology report. The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI), in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a(a), and second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, among several other counts. On March 8, 2004, the defendant submitted a motion to suppress the toxicology report, arguing that they were obtained in violation of the search and seizure protections of the state and federal constitutions.
Under state and federal law, individuals are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, houses, papers, and effects. The “[c]ompulsory administration of a blood test” clearly constitutes a search and seizure of one’s person. If a search is conducted without a warrant evidencing probable cause, it is per se unreasonable, and evidence derived from this illegal search will be excluded unless one of a “few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions” applies. Two such exceptions to the exclusionary rule are inevitable discovery and exigent circumstances.
The inevitable discovery exception will thwart suppression of evidence if the State can show, by the preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not), that through lawful means the evidence would have been discovered anyway. Officers must have been actively pursuing such means before the constitutional violation in question occurred. In this case, the State argued that this exception applied because had the officer not been told the blood was drawn, he would have proceeded with the various OMVUI-related tests. Therefore, the State would have inevitably discovered the defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC). However, the Superior Court was not persuaded, because the State assumed that the defendant would have consented to the alcohol chemical tests. Under CGS § 14-227b, a person is free to refuse the test, though he will face license suspension for doing so. As such, the police could not presume that this procedure would inevitably lead them to discovery of the defendant’s BAC level.
Exigent circumstances doctrine applies where police officers, who have requisite probable cause, do not have time to get a warrant. They must act swiftly to effectuate an arrest, search, or seizure, to avoid, for example, the destruction of evidence. The State bears the burden to point to specific and articulable facts that gave rise to the exigent circumstances. In this case, the State argued that if they did not order that the defendant’s blood be taken, they would have lost evidence of his BAC level. However, the Superior Court noted that the record was devoid of any facts to support this proposition. Therefore, because neither exception applied to the facts of this case, the Superior Court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress.
When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.