Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

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This compendium includes significant criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court & N.C. appellate courts, Nov. 2008 – Present. Selected 4th Circuit cases also are included.

Jessica Smith prepared case summaries Nov. 2008-June 4, 2019; later summaries are prepared by other School staff.

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E.g., 07/25/2024
E.g., 07/25/2024

In this Edgecombe County case, defendant appealed his convictions for second-degree murder and aggravated serious injury by vehicle, arguing error in the denial of his motion to suppress a warrantless blood draw and motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence. The Court of Appeals found no error and affirmed. 

In June of 2015, defendant crossed the centerline of a highway and hit another vehicle head on, causing the death of one passenger. Officers responding to the scene interviewed defendant, and noted his responses seemed impaired and the presence of beer cans in his vehicle. A blood draw was performed at the hospital, although the officer ordering the draw did not read defendant his Chapter 20 implied consent rights or obtain a search warrant before the draw. The results of defendant’s blood draw showed a benzodiazepine, a cocaine metabolite, two anti-depressants, an aerosol propellant, and a blood-alcohol level of 0.02.  

Reviewing defendant’s argument that no exigent circumstances supported the warrantless draw of his blood, the Court of Appeals first noted that defense counsel failed to object to the admission of the drug analysis performed on defendant’s blood, meaning his arguments regarding that exhibit were overruled. The court then turned to the exigent circumstances exception to justify the warrantless search, noting that the investigation of the scene took significant time and defendant was not taken to the hospital until an hour and forty-five minutes afterwards. Acknowledging Supreme Court precedent “that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream cannot, standing alone, create an exigency in a case of alleged impaired driving sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant,” the court looked for additional justification in the current case. Slip Op. at 11. Here the court found such justification in the shift change occurring that would prevent the officer from having assistance, and the delay in going to obtain a warrant from the magistrate’s office that would add an additional hour to the process. These circumstances supported the trial court’s finding of exigent circumstances. 

The court then turned to defendant’s argument that insufficient evidence was admitted to establish he was impaired at the time of the accident. The record contained evidence that defendant had beer cans in his truck along with an aerosol can of Ultra Duster, and several witnesses testified as to defendant’s demeanor and speech after the accident. The record also contained a blood analysis showing defendant had five separate impairing substances in his system at the time of the accident, “alcohol, benzyl ethylene (a cocaine metabolite), Diazepam (a benzodiazepine such as Valium), Citalopram (an anti-depressant) and Sertraline (another anti-depressant called “Zoloft”).” Id. at 16. The court found that based on this evidence there was sufficient support for denying defendant’s motion.

State v. Sisk, 238 N.C. App. 553 (Dec. 31, 2014)

In this habitual impaired driving case, the trial court did not err in admitting the defendant’s blood test results into evidence. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the officer’s failure to re-advise him of his implied consent rights before the blood draw violated both G.S. 20-16.2 and 20-139.1(b5). Distinguishing State v. Williams, __ N.C. App. __, 759 S.E.2d 350 (2014), the court noted that in this case the defendant—without any prompting—volunteered to submit to a blood test. The court concluded: “Because the prospect of Defendant submitting to a blood test originated with Defendant—as opposed to originating with [the officer]—we are satisfied that Defendant’s statutory right to be readvised of his implied consent rights was not triggered.”

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the right to have a witness present for blood alcohol testing performed under G.S. 20-16.2 applies to blood draws taken pursuant to a search warrant. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that failure to allow a witness to be present for the blood draw violated his constitutional rights, holding that the defendant had no constitutional right to have a witness present for the execution of the search warrant.

Relying on State v. Drdak, 330 N.C. 587, 592-93 (1992), and State v. Davis, 142 N.C. App. 81 (2001), the court held that where an officer obtained a blood sample from the defendant pursuant to a search warrant after the defendant refused to submit to a breath test of his blood alcohol level, the results were admissible under G.S. 20-139.1(a) and the procedures for obtaining the blood sample did not have to comply with G.S. 20-16.2. 

In an impaired driving case involving a fatality, the trial court properly granted the defendant’s motion to suppress blood test results. The defendant was transported an intoxilyzer room where an officer read and gave the defendant a copy of his implied consent rights. The defendant signed the implied consent rights form acknowledging that he understood his rights. After thirty minutes, the officer, a certified chemical analyst, asked the defendant to submit to a chemical analysis of his breath, but the defendant refused. The officer then requested that a blood testing kit be brought to the office. Although the officer did not re-advise the defendant of his implied consent rights for the blood test, he gave the defendant a consent form for the testing, which the defendant signed. The defendant’s blood was then drawn. Challenging the trial court’s suppression ruling, the State argued that evidence of the results of the blood test was admissible because the defendant signed a consent form for the testing. The court rejected this argument, concluding that although the State could seek to administer a blood test after the defendant refused to take a breath test, it was required, pursuant to G.S. 20-16.2(a) and G.S. 20-139.1(b5), to re-advise the defendant of his implied consent rights before requesting he take a blood test. The court also rejected the State’s argument that any statutory violation was technical and not substantial and no prejudice occurred because the defendant had been advised of his implied consent rights as to the breath test less than an hour before the blood test. It reasoned: “A failure to advise cannot be deemed a mere technical and insubstantial violation.”

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