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TEMPE, AZ, October 16, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- The Arizona Court of Appeals, vacated a woman's DUI conviction last month after finding that a Blood Alcohol Test (BAC) was performed in violation of her constitutional rights in State v. Spencer, CA-CR 13-0804 Ariz. Ct. App. 2014.
Incident and Overview
Vi Ann Spencer was involved in a one car accident. While driving she swerved and hit a guard rail. Another driver stopped to help, and drove her to a fire station after she reported having a seizure.
A deputy there said she spoke slowly, slurred her words and seemed unfocused and "generally impaired", and smelled of alcohol, when he arrived at the station. Spencer refused DUI sobriety tests, breath tests, and blood tests. She also refused to seek medical treatment.
Following her refusals the deputy gave her an ultimatum of either going to the hospital or being arrested. She opted for the hospital. At the hospital, the deputy told medical staff that if they were drawing blood, he would like to test it to see if she was driving under the influence of alcohol.
A test returned a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .296 percent. The woman was then charged, and prosecuted for Felony DUI based on those blood test results. She was convicted of aggravated DUI, on a suspended license. Spencer was sentenced to serve five months in state prison and five years of probation following time served.
The defendant appealed with the contention that the blood test evidence should not have been admitted, since there was no warrant to draw the blood, and the medical treatment was not voluntary.
Appeals Court Applied the Law
Under Arizona law, there are three circumstances under which an officer may obtain a DUI blood sample:
- If the office obtains a warrant based on probable cause;
- If the suspect consents; or
- If "exigent circumstances" exist and the office has probable cause to believe the suspect while driving under the influence.
"Exigent circumstances" as defined in A.R.S. 28-1388 (E) include blood samples that are sufficient for analysis that are taken by medical personnel for in the course of medical treatment.
The Appeals Court rejected the argument, however, from the state that that the blood sample was taken in the course of the suspect's medical treatment, and that the officer was within the law when he requested a sample.
In the opinion written by Judge Margaret H. Downie, the court cited State v. Estrada CA-CR 2003-0302 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2004) regarding application of the medical exception.
The Court ruled that this exception did not apply because the treatment was against the suspect's will. The Court advised that in order for a patient's decision to be truly voluntary they must not be coerced into receiving the medical treatment.
The court pointed to testimony provided by the deputy, to demonstrate that the treatment was coerced, and not truly voluntary. The defendant clearly protested the medical treatment, and refused it. She only accepting it after an ultimatum to get it or be arrested. The Court ruled that the DUI blood test, in this case was therefore, inadmissible.
Overview of Decision
The Appeals Court agreed with the defendant's arguments that the blood test evidence should have been suppressed, since she did not voluntarily consent to the treatment that led to the blood draw. The Court vacated Spencer's convictions and remanded for a new trial that does not include evidence derived from that medical blood draw.
Attorney James Novak said, "This sends a strong message to police and law enforcement that they cannot force a suspect to seek medical treatment, as a means to overcome a DUI blood test refusal. There are consequences to rejecting medical care and refusing a DUI blood test, However, the voluntary right of choice should not be compromised".
Criminal Defense for DUI
Novak said that this case demonstrates the need to retain a skilled criminal defense attorney for legal representation when faced with impaired driving charges. If a driver's rights were violated their Attorney may challenge the evidence obtained, during or after the rights violation. When the court agrees that a violation of rights occurred, the evidence may be suppressed, which generally leads to acquittal or dismissal of the charges.
James Novak, of the Law Office of James Novak, is a Tempe DUI defense lawyer and former Maricopa County Prosecutor serving Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, Scottsdale, and Phoenix, AZ.
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