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Name: People v. Alvarez
Case #: D080585
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 12/29/2023
Summary

No exigency permitted police officer to conduct a warrantless blood draw where the suspect became unconscious 90 minutes after a collision and where the officer interacted with the suspect for 45 minutes prior to his losing consciousness. Defendant had been involved in fatal vehicle collision, after which he was conscious and transported to the hospital. A police officer questioned him at the hospital for around 45 minutes and unsuccessfully attempted to take a breath alcohol sample. Defendant then lost consciousness, at which point the officer called a phlebotomist to take a blood sample for alcohol testing. Relying on Mitchell v. Wisconsin (2019) 588 U.S. ___ [139 S.Ct. 2525], the trial court found the officer properly acted without a warrant and denied defendant’s suppression motion, ruling that appellant’s unconsciousness created an exigent circumstance. Defendant appealed. Held: Reversed. Mitchell found exigent circumstances for a warrantless blood draw where a suspect in a vehicle collision could barely walk when police arrived at the scene, continued to deteriorate, and lost consciousness on the way to the hospital. In Schmerber v. California (1966) 384 U.S. 757, a warrantless blood draw was justified where the driver’s injuries at the scene caused emergency responders to transport him directly from the accident site to the hospital for treatment. In contrast here, defendant was conscious at the scene and was transported to the hospital only as a precaution, permitting the officer ample time to speak with him and to secure a warrant. The officer’s warrantless blood draw thus did not fall within the exception described in Mitchell and Schmerber.

The implied consent law does not trigger the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule, especially where the officer lacked probable cause to arrest at the time of the blood draw. California’s implied consent law states that any driver of a motor vehicle is “deemed to have given his or her consent” to blood or breath testing for alcohol and drugs upon lawful arrest for driving under the influence. The prosecution claimed that the officer acted in a good faith belief that the implied consent law permitted him to presume that the suspect consented to the blood draw though he was unconscious. But the implied consent law requires probable cause to arrest, which was lacking here at the time of the blood draw. Moreover, no cases or other authority justified the officer’s claimed belief that the implied consent law created a per se exception to the warrant requirement.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/D080585.PDF