In 2004, John Deeds vehicle crossed a four lane highway and hit Faye Briggs vehicle nearly head on. Officer Michael Gibbs of the Olive Branch Police Department testified that Deeds was pinned behind the steering wheel, semiconscious. Gibbs further testified that he noticed a real strong smell of intoxicating beverage on Deeds’s breath when he checked to see if Deeds was breathing. Gibbs also observed a half empty, half gallon bottle of whiskey in the vehicle, which he testified had a strong smell of alcohol or intoxicating beverage.
Both Deeds and Bridges were taken to the hospital and Gibbs was instructed by his supervisor to go to the hospital and retrieve a blood sample from Deeds. When Gibbs arrived at the hospital, he was informed by a nurse that Deeds was still semiconscious and could not respond to verbal cues. Gibbs observed as a nurse drew Deeds’s blood in his presence.
The blood test revealed that Deeds’s blood contained .13 percent ethyl alcohol. Deeds was convicted of DUI with resulting injury and sentenced to 15 years. On appeal, he argued the blood was drawn unlawfully. MSC affirmed.
A. Probable cause to draw blood
In Wilkerson, we held that drawing blood evidence from a defendant at the hospital without a warrant following an accident was not a violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights because the law enforcement officer had probable cause.
The facts of Wilkerson are substantially similar to those in the present case. The officer in Wilkerson knew that (1) the defendant had been involved in a head-on collision; (2) the collision had occurred in the other vehicle’s lane of travel; (3) the defendant had been driving recklessly; and (4) the defendant had a strong odor of intoxicating substances on his person.
Similarly, Deeds’s head on collision with Bridges occurred in Bridges’s lane of travel. More importantly, Gibbs testified that he detected the scent of intoxicating beverage emanating from both the vehicle and from Deeds’s breath when he checked to see if Deeds was breathing. Gibbs also observed a half empty, half gallon bottle of whisky sitting on the floorboard of Deeds’s vehicle.
These facts and circumstances evince more than a mere or reasonable suspicion that evidence material to the criminal investigation, an illegal blood alcohol level, would be found. We find, as the trial court did, that Gibbs had probable cause to obtain a blood sample from Deeds.
B. Exigent circumstances
In Holloman, the MCOA said that a warrantless search is permissible in certain exigent circumstances if it can be shown that grounds existed to conduct the search that, had time permitted, would have reasonably satisfied a disinterested magistrate that a warrant should properly issue.
The U.S. Supreme Court in Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757 (1966), found that exigent circumstances existed to justify the warrantless seizure of blood samples when there are special facts, such as where time had to be taken to bring the accused to a hospital and to investigate the scene of the accident. In these types of cases, there is no time to seek out a magistrate and secure a warrant.
Gibbs testified that it would have taken an additional hour and a half to two hours and a half to get a warrant in this case.
This court is satisfied that exigent circumstances existed that justified taking a blood sample without first seeking a warrant. These circumstances include not only the undisputed fact that alcohol rates begin to dissipate after drinking ceases, but also the fact that the officers were involved in the investigation of a major vehicle accident involving serious injuries to multiple people, requiring their transportation to nearby hospitals, as well as the time that would have been required to obtain a warrant before traveling to the hospital to obtain the samples.
Don’t forget that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 held in Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U.S. 141 (2013), that natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant. You will need additional circumstances, such as the special facts above in bringing someone to the hospital and investigating an accident, before utilizing the exigent exception.