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State v. Sanders: Exigent Circumstances & Warrantless Blood Draw

A defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained during a warrantless blood draw was granted by the trial court and affirmed by the Texas Second District Court of Appeals.

Background of the Case

On October 23, 2015, the defendant, Sanders, collided with a vehicle when she was driving on the wrong side of the road. The accident took the lives of two individuals and left one with serious injuries. The defendant was arrested and charged with intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault.

Trooper Russell was dispatched to investigate the accident. When she arrived on the scene, at around 12:05 am, she noted that several emergency responders were already there. Russell found Sanders with blood on her face, smelling of alcohol and having slurred speech and red, bloodshot eyes.

Even though a justice of the peace was at the scene to pronounce the death of the two people involved, Russell did not speak with him about obtaining a warrant to draw Sanders’s blood. She claimed that her duties investigating the accident prevented her from discussing the blood draw with the justice of the peace.

A short while after Russell showed up at the accident, a second trooper, Neff, arrived on the scene to assist her. When Sanders was transported to the hospital, Neff followed.

At the hospital, Neff escorted Sanders to the examination room and asked for permission to have her blood drawn. She refused.

Hospital staff began setting up equipment to treat Sanders, which included preparing a bag with fluids. Seeing that Sanders would soon have something pumped into her system, Neff worried that her blood sample would become tainted by whatever liquids they were about to give her. He claimed that exigent circumstances required that a blood draw be conducted as soon as possible. He stated that the upcoming medical treatment, as well as the fact that there had been a fatality in the accident, suggested that he didn’t need a warrant for the test.

Motion to Suppress Filed

Sanders filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained during the warrantless blood draw. The trial court granted the request.

Its ruling was based on the fact that:

  • Neff arrived at the scene at around 12:07 am
  • Sanders was transported to the hospital, arriving at around 1:00 am
  • The types of fluids that were about to be injected into Sanders were unknown
  • Neff had warrant forms on his person but did not try to obtain an order from a magistrate

Case Sent to the Second Court of Appeals

The State argued that the trial court erred in its decision to grant the motion to suppress, and appealed with the Texas Second Court of Appeals. The prosecutor claimed that the circumstances in total created exigency and justified a warrantless blood draw.

The appeals court referred to Carmouche v. State, which says that the reviewing court must defer to the trial court’s judgment of facts as long as they are supported by the record. If the initial proceeding shows that the law was accurately applied in the case, the reviewing court must maintain the original ruling.

The Second Court of Appeals also applied Missouri v. McNeely and State v. Villarreal, which state that if a person does not consent to a blood draw, officers must obtain a warrant to have the test conducted. However, if they are under emergency circumstances, they can move forward with the analysis as long as such action is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Determining whether or not a situation is an emergency requires looking at the facts of that specific case.

Additionally, under Weems v. State, if other officers are present to request a warrant, exigent circumstances do not exist. Even if a suspect was taken to a nearby hospital, the officers could still attempt to get a court order for the test.

The Second Court of Appeals found that Trooper Neff had time to obtain a warrant, and affirmed the motion to suppress evidence.

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