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Name: People v. Meza
Case #: A147188
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 05/18/2018

Exigent circumstances did not justify warrantless blood draw from a defendant suspected of driving under the influence who was injured in an accident and taken to the hospital for treatment. Meza was involved in a single car accident in which his passenger was injured. One of the several officers present concluded he had been driving under the influence, and that he should be arrested. Because he also showed signs of possible injury, he was taken to the hospital. Hospital staff drew a blood sample for medical treatment reasons, which revealed an alcohol level above 0.10%. More than an hour later, a phlebotomist summoned by the investigating officer drew a blood sample, which also showed an alcohol level above 0.10%. The officer never attempted to get a warrant. Meza’s motion to suppress the evidence was denied, the court finding exigent circumstances associated with the need to get medical care for the defendant and his passenger justified having the blood drawn without a warrant. He was convicted by a jury and appealed. Held. Affirmed. Missouri v. McNeely (2013) 569 U.S. 141 held that an officer could not dispense with getting a warrant before having a motorist’s blood drawn on grounds of exigent circumstances if the only exigency was that alcohol in the driver’s body would dissipate with time. The Court of Appeal here concluded, based on the circumstances of this case, that exigent circumstances did not excuse the police from getting a warrant. There was no evidence that one or more of the several other officers could not have assisted in securing a warrant. Advances in technology have made it much easier for an officer to present warrant applications when court is not in session. The investigating officer did not explain why she could not use existing procedures to get a warrant application approved by an on-call judge shortly after the accident. There is no rule exempting accident cases from the totality-of-the-circumstances inquiry that McNeely requires. It was error to deny the motion to suppress.

The error in failing to suppress the blood draw evidence was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Although exigent circumstances did not excuse the police from getting a warrant in this case and the blood draw evidence should have been suppressed, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury properly received evidence of the blood alcohol level contained in the blood sample drawn by the hospital for medical examination and treatment purposes.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: