State v. Romano, 247 N.C. App. 212 (Apr. 19, 2016)

aff’d, 369 N.C. 678 (Jun. 9, 2017)

In this DWI case, the court held that the trial court did not err by suppressing blood draw evidence that an officer collected from a nurse who was treating the defendant. The trial court had found that no exigency existed justifying the warrantless search and that G.S. 20-16.2, as applied in this case, violated Missouri v. McNeely. The court noted that in McNeely, the US Supreme Court held “the natural metabolization of alcohol in the bloodstream” does not present a “per se exigency that justifies an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement for nonconsensual blood testing in all drunk-driving cases.” Rather, it held that exigency must be determined based on the totality of the circumstances. Here, the officer never advised the defendant of his rights according to G.S. 20-16.2 and did not obtain his written or oral consent to the blood test. Rather, she waited until an excess of blood was drawn, beyond the amount needed for medical treatment, and procured it from the attending nurse. The officer testified that she believed her actions were reasonable under G.S. 20-16.2(b), which allows the testing of an unconscious person, in certain circumstances. Noting that it had affirmed the use of the statute to justify warrantless blood draws of unconscious DWI defendants, the court further noted that all of those decisions were decided before McNeely. Here, under the totality of the circumstances and considering the alleged exigencies, the warrantless blood draw was not objectively reasonable. The court rejected the State’s argument that the blood should be admitted under the independent source doctrine, noting that the evidence was never obtained independently from lawful activities untainted by the initial illegality. It likewise rejected the State’s argument that the blood should be admitted under the good faith exception. That exception allows officers to objectively and reasonably rely on a warrant later found to be invalid. Here, however, the officers never obtained a search warrant.