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Greenville County Circuit Judge Reverses DUI Conviction

CASE NAME: Kathryn Key vs. South Carolina (Case No.: 2016-CP-23-06517; February 4, 2017)

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

On December, 10, 2015, the Appellant (” Key”) was involved in an automobile wreck at approximately 8:47 a.m. Shortly thereafter, emergency medical personnel (“EMS personnel”) arrived on scene. As EMS personnel were removing Key from her vehicle, Trooper Campbell, (“Campbell”) the investigating/arresting officer, arrived at the scene of the accident. At that time, Campbell did not speak with Key because she was unconscious. EMS personnel transported Key to the emergency room at Greenville Memorial Hospital. Initially, Campbell remained at the scene of the accident in order to conduct an investigation as to the cause of the accident.

While conducting his investigation, Campbell determined that the vehicle that Key was removed from was in fact registered to her. Subsequently, Campbell went to Greenville Memorial Hospital and placed Key under arrest at 10:35 a.m.  At that time, Key remained unconscious from the accident. Campbell read Key the implied consent warnings pursuant to South Carolina Code Section 56-5-2950 at 10:36 a.m .. The Implied Consent Rights Form indicates that Key was not conscious when Campbell read her those warnings. Furthermore, Campbell testified at trial that Key did not give consent for her blood to be drawn. At 10:45 am., a registered nurse from the Greenville Hospital System drew a sample of Key’s blood. Campbell did not obtain a search warrant prior to directing the nurse to take Key’s blood sample. The parties stipulated that a magistrate judge was on duty at the time of accident, arrest and blood draw.

On August 8, 20 16, the parties engaged in a pretrial hearing before the Honorable Mark C. Edmonds of the Greenville Magistrate’s Court. That hearing pertained to a Motion in Limine/Motion to Suppress concerning Key’s blood sample and the corresponding analysis. During that hearing, Key’s attorney asserted that the blood evidence should be suppressed because it was obtained pursuant to an unlawful search in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Article I, Section 10 of the South Carolina Constitution, and United States Supreme Court precedent. The magistrate judge denied Key’s suppression motion. On November 8, 2016, a magistrate judge found Key guilty of Driving Under the Influence (lst Offense). Prior to and during Key’s trial, Mr. Price, Key’s attorney, renewed his Motion to Suppress regarding the blood evidence. The State asserted that the blood draw was lawfully completed because Key consented to the blood draw based upon the state implied consent statute, which provides:

A person who drives a motor vehicle in this State is considered to have given consent to chemical tests of the person’s breath, blood, or mine for the purpose of determining the presence of alcohol, drugs, or the combination of alcohol and drugs, if arrested for an offense arising out of acts alleged to have been committed while the person was driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs . .. . If the person is physically unable to provide an acceptable breath sample because the person . .. is unconscious … the arresting officer may request a blood sample to be taken. Any additional tests to collect other samples must be collected within three hours of the arrest. S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2950 (A)(Supp. 2009).

The magistrate judge denied Key’s motions. Additionally, Mr. Price moved for a directed verdict at the close of the State’s case; however, the magistrate denied that motion as well. The trial judge found Key guilty based upon the evidence presented, including the blood evidence, during the course of the trial. Key then filed this appeal.

ISSUE:

Did the magistrate judge err when admitting the defendant’s blood sample at trial?

HOLDING:

Yes. The blood test results in this case were obtained pursuant to an unlawful and unconstitutional search of the defendant and should have been suppressed.

The Fourth Amendment provides protection for citizens against unreasonable searches and Seizures. Similarly, the South Carolina Constitution provides protection against unlawful searches and seizures. A search or seizure does not infringe upon the protections of the Fourth Amendment or the South Carolina Constitution if the search or seizure is initiated with a warrant supported by sufficient probable cause. However, a warrantless search or seizure IS not unreasonable so long as a recognized exception to the warrant requirement exists.

In Schmerber, the United States Supreme Court held that the wan-ant requirement and corresponding exceptions apply to intrusions into the human body, including blood draws. Recently, the Supreme Court specifically addressed the wan-ant requirement in cases involving blood draws collected pursuant to an informed consent statute. In McNeely, the Court declined to establish a per se exigency for the natural metabolism of alcohol. The Court held that the reasonableness of a warrantless blood draw must be addressed on a case-by-case basis using a totality of the circumstances analysis. More importantly, the Court noted that police officers should obtain a warrant for a blood draw if doing so does not “significantly undermine the efficacy of the search …. “

Here, the State argued that the blood draw was obtained lawfully pursuant to the informed consent statute. However, I do not find this argument compelling. In particular, the parties agreed that a magistrate judge was on-duty and available at the time of the blood draw. Therefore, Trooper Campbell had the opportunity to seek a search warrant, and a judge with the authority to issue such a warrant was readily available to him to issue such a warrant. However, Campbell did not obtain a search warrant even though the statute that he relied upon to obtain the blood sample provides a three hour time period in which blood samples may be obtained. Instead, Campbell waited only (10) minutes from the time of arrest before ordering Key’s blood be drawn.

As the Court noted in McNeely, blood draws performed pursuant to implied consent statutes, like the statute at issue here, “implicate a significant privacy interest.” In light McNeely, I hold that a search warrant should have been obtained prior to Campbell ordering a blood draw from Key. The blood evidence obtained from Key constituted an illegal search and seizure in violation of Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 10 of the South Carolina Constitution. Accordingly, I find that the trial court should have suppressed the blood evidence and a new trial is necessary.

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