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Medical Blood Draw as Evidence in Arizona Negligent Homicide

Legal News GavelIn a recent Arizona homicide case, the defendant appealed a conviction for negligent homicide. He argued that the lower court should have suppressed the blood alcohol content evidence, and he challenged whether the evidence was sufficient for a conviction.

The case arose in 2012 when the police responded to a single-vehicle crash caused by the defendant. The officer found the defendant in the car’s driver’s seat and a woman who was his passenger slumped in the passenger’s seat. The woman was dead. As the officer went with him to a police car for safety, he noticed that the defendant smelled like alcohol. He asked whether the defendant had been drinking alcohol, and he said no. No field sobriety tests were conducted.

He left the defendant and started directing vehicles and spoke to witnesses. The witnesses said that the defendant was going downhill when he seemed to make a lane change to pass a vehicle, but there was no vehicle to pass. He went over the double yellow line and collided with a culvert. There were no skid marks, but the car had damage on it. The officer was knowledgeable about accident reconstruction, and in his opinion, the damage showed an impact speed of less than 35 mph.

The defendant was treated at the scene. A paramedic found him oriented, alert, and responsive. The defendant told the firefighter the cigarette made him dizzy while driving, and he denied alcohol or drug use. The firefighter didn’t notice intoxication.

At first, the defendant refused to be taken to a medical center, but he changed his mind and was taken to a medical center by ambulance. The officer followed. The paramedic in the ambulance evaluated him and found him responsive and oriented and believed that he didn’t show signs of being drunk. The defendant came to the center and verbally consented to the conditions of admission agreement. He started getting care from a nurse, who also didn’t record any alcohol consumption signs.

The officer talked to the defendant in the ER. A certified nursing assistance took a sample of the defendant’s blood and certified the draw on a consent form the officer gave him. The officer wrote in that it was a fatal crash draw and crossed out the consent part of the form.

There was conflicting testimony from both the office and the medical center personnel related to the blood draw. The records from the medical center indicated that the treating doctor asked for a blood sample, and the request was logged 10 minutes after the draw had already been completed. The nursing assistant testified that the office must have asked for a draw, but he later said the doctor probably gave a verbal order.

The nursing assistant and treating nurse testified that medical protocols can provide a basis for blood draws. They admitted they didn’t have an independent memory of the blood draw. The assistant stated that based on the doctor’s order, the medical center would have drawn blood anyhow. However, he also said the medical center would’ve provided a separate blood-draw consent and refusal forms, and he didn’t see the forms in the medical records.

The lower court found the blood draw didn’t count as a draw under A.R.S. § 28-1388(E). The officer had probable cause to believe he’d violated the DUI statute, but the prosecution hadn’t met its burden of showing that the blood draw was performed due to a medical reason. On its own volition, it also considered the inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule. It concluded that based on the evidence, it was clear the defendant’s blood would have been taken for medical reasons, but the court didn’t know of any cases that would permit the inevitable discovery theory to apply under the circumstances.

The court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress the blood evidence. The prosecution moved for reconsideration. It argued that A.R.S. § 28-1390 gave the police permission to get a copy of the blood alcohol concentration because the inevitable discovery doctrine applied. The court granted the motion on the ground that the blood was going to be taken for medical reasons, irrespective of the officer’s statements to the nursing assistant. From that medical draw, the police officer would be entitled to an A.R.S. § 28-1388(E) sample.

In an autopsy, the medical examiner concluded the passenger had died from blunt force trauma, and her abdominal atherosclerotic aneurysm, which ruptured during the collision, contributed. In his opinion, the passenger would’ve died even if the rupture hadn’t happened.

The parties stipulated as to the blood alcohol concentration and THC in the defendant’s bloodstream. He was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison. He appealed.

The appellate court explained the prosecution bore the burden to show the medical draw exception applied. It needed to show:  (1) there was probable cause to believe the defendant was driving under the influence, (2) exigent circumstances made it impractical for the police to get a warrant, (3) the blood was taken for medical reasons, and (4) giving medical services didn’t violate the defendant’s right to direct his medical care.

The appellate court concluded the prosecution hadn’t satisfied this burden. There was probable cause to believe there was a DUI. There weren’t exigent circumstances, but the prosecution acted in good faith. The medical draw was inevitable, although the particular draw wasn’t necessarily conducted for a medical reason. However, the evidence could be admitted under the inevitable discovery doctrine. It concluded that it was appropriate for the lower court to decide the medical center would have inevitably drawn the blood for medical reasons within the scope of treatment. It also affirmed the conviction and sentence.

If you are facing a DUI charge in Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, or Scottsdale, consult criminal defense attorney James E. Novak. As a former Maricopa County Prosecutor, he’ll use insights obtained as a prosecutor to evaluate whether any of your constitutional rights was violated and develop an approach to your defense. He offers a free initial consultation for people facing active criminal charges in his area. If you have been charged with a crime, call or contact The Law Office of James Novak at (480) 413-1499 and speak directly with Mr. Novak.

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