Commonwealth v. Myers, 7 EAP 2016

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Citation164 A.3d 1162
Docket NumberNo. 7 EAP 2016,7 EAP 2016
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. Darrell MYERS, Appellee
Decision Date19 July 2017

164 A.3d 1162

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant
Darrell MYERS, Appellee

No. 7 EAP 2016

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

ARGUED: September 14, 2016
DECIDED: July 19, 2017

Ronald Eisenberg, Esq., Edward F. McCann Jr., Esq., Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, Hugh J. Burns Jr., Esq., Darby Grennan Sullivan, Esq., Seth Williams, Esq., for Appellant.

Karl Baker, Esq., Defender Association of Philadelphia, Bradley Steven Bridge, Esq., for Appellee.

Alisa Rebecca Hobart, Esq., for Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, Appellant Amicus Curiae.

Barbara A. Zemlock, Esq., Perry Shore Weisenberger & Zemlock, for Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Appellee Amicus Curiae.


Justice Wecht delivers the Opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II(A), II(B), and II(D), and announces the Judgment of the Court. The opinion is joined in full by Justices Donohue and Dougherty. Justice Todd joins Parts I, II(A), II(B), and II(D) of the opinion, as well as its mandate. Chief Justice Saylor files a concurring opinion, joined in full by Justice Baer and joined in part by Justice Donohue. Justice Mundy files a dissenting opinion.



When a motorist drives on a road in Pennsylvania, the motorist is "deemed to have given consent" to chemical testing to determine whether he or she is driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance ("DUI"), provided that a police officer first develops "reasonable grounds" to suspect such impairment. 75 Pa.C.S. § 1547(a). Nonetheless, this "implied consent" statute also grants DUI arrestees the right to refuse chemical testing. See id. § 1547(b)(1) ("If any person placed under arrest for [DUI] is requested to submit to chemical testing and refuses to do so, the testing shall not be conducted"); Commonwealth v. Eisenhart , 531 Pa. 103, 611 A.2d 681, 683 (1992) ("The statute grants an explicit right to a driver who is under arrest for [DUI] to refuse to consent to chemical testing."). Refusal to submit to a chemical test comes with its own set of consequences, and both the statute and this Court's precedents require a police officer who is requesting a chemical test to inform an arrestee of those consequences. See 75 Pa.C.S. § 1547(b)(2) (prescribing the "duty of the police officer" to inform a DUI arrestee of the consequences of refusal); Pa. Dep't of Transp., Bureau of Traffic Safety v. O'Connell , 521 Pa. 242, 555 A.2d 873, 877 (1989) ("The law has always required that the police must tell the arrestee of the consequences of a refusal to take [a chemical] test so that he can make a knowing and conscious choice.").2

In this case, we granted allowance of appeal to consider the lawfulness of a warrantless blood draw conducted upon a motorist who, having been arrested for DUI, had then been rendered unconscious by

164 A.3d 1165

medical personnel before a police officer provided O'Connell warnings3 and before the officer requested the motorist's submission to a chemical test. The Philadelphia Municipal Court, the Court of Common Pleas, and the Superior Court all held that a blood draw conducted under these circumstances is impermissible, and that the results of the derivative blood test are accordingly inadmissible at trial. Because the seizure of Darrell Myers' blood violated Pennsylvania's implied consent statute, 75 Pa.C.S. § 1547, and because no other circumstances justified the failure to obtain a search warrant, we affirm.

I. Background

On December 29, 2012, at approximately 3:30 p.m., Philadelphia Police Officer James Bragg was on routine patrol when he received a radio call indicating that there was a person screaming in the vicinity of 100 West Penn Street. The radio call warned Officer Bragg to be on the lookout for a maroon SUV. When Officer Bragg arrived on West Penn Street, he observed a vehicle matching that description with its engine running and its brake lights repeatedly flickering on and off. A man later identified as Myers was sitting in the driver's seat. Officer Bragg activated his siren and emergency lights and pulled up behind the maroon SUV. Myers exited the vehicle and began to stagger toward the officer, even though he had not been ordered to step out of the vehicle. Myers tried to speak, but his speech was so slurred that Officer Bragg could not understand what he was saying. Officer Bragg detected the smell of alcohol emanating from Myers, and observed a bottle of brandy on the front seat of the SUV. The bottle was in plain view, as Myers had left the driver's door open when he exited the vehicle. Based upon his observations and experience, Officer Bragg believed that Myers was intoxicated to the point that he required medical attention. Officer Bragg placed Myers under arrest for DUI and called for a wagon, which transported Myers to Einstein Medical Center.

Around 4:45 p.m. that same day, Philadelphia Police Officer Matthew Domenic arrived at Einstein Medical Center, having been informed that an individual at that hospital had been arrested for DUI. A few minutes before Officer Domenic arrived, however, the hospital staff administered four milligrams of Haldol4 to Myers, rendering him unconscious. Officer Domenic attempted to communicate with Myers by speaking his name and tapping him on the shoulder, but Myers was unresponsive. Nevertheless, Officer Domenic read O'Connell warnings to Myers. Myers, still unconscious, was unable to respond in any manner. Officer Domenic then instructed a nurse to draw Myers' blood. It is undisputed that neither Officer Bragg nor Officer Domenic attempted to secure a search warrant for this blood draw. It also is undisputed that, due to his unconscious state, Myers could neither hear Officer Domenic nor sign the implied consent warnings.

The Commonwealth charged Myers with DUI.5 Myers filed a pre-trial motion to suppress the evidence derived from the

164 A.3d 1166

blood draw, which he alleged had been conducted in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution6 and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.7 Myers argued that Officer Bragg lacked probable cause to arrest him for DUI, and that the blood draw was unlawful under the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Missouri v. McNeely , 569 U.S. 141, 133 S.Ct. 1552, 185 L.Ed.2d 696 (2013), because the police did not obtain a search warrant and because no exigent circumstances justified the warrantless search of his blood.

In McNeely , a plurality of the United States Supreme Court explained that, because a blood draw unquestionably is a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, a warrant generally is required, unless one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement applies. Id. at 1558. One such exception exists for searches based upon exigent circumstances, "when the exigencies of the situation make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that a warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment." Id. (quoting Kentucky v. King , 563 U.S. 452, 460, 131 S.Ct. 1849, 179 L.Ed.2d 865 (2011) ). Missouri sought a per se rule that the natural dissipation of alcohol from the bloodstream always is an exigent circumstance, such that there never is a need for a warrant for a blood draw in DUI cases. Id. at 1560. The Court rejected Missouri's argument, instead concluding that whether exigent circumstances exist in DUI cases must be determined in each individual case, based upon the totality of the circumstances. Id. at 1561–62.

Following a suppression hearing on May 21, 2013, the Philadelphia Municipal Court granted Myers' motion and suppressed the results of the blood draw. The Municipal Court concluded that, although probable cause existed for the DUI arrest, the officers were required to obtain a warrant for the blood draw because Myers' unconscious state prevented him from consenting or refusing, and because no exigent circumstances were present. Considering the totality of the circumstances as required by McNeely , the Municipal Court concluded that it would not have been unreasonable for the police to obtain a warrant before having Myers' blood drawn.

The Commonwealth appealed to the Court of Common Pleas, which affirmed the Municipal Court's suppression order. The trial court, also applying McNeely , concluded that the Commonwealth failed to show "that it would have been impracticable or infeasible for [either officer] to obtain a warrant in the circumstances." Trial Court Opinion, 1/17/2014, at 7. In addition, the trial court concluded that, because Myers was unconscious at the time of the blood draw, "he did not have the opportunity to decline or refuse to have his blood sample taken on the date in question." Id. at 8.

164 A.3d 1167

The Superior Court affirmed. Commonwealth v. Myers , 118 A.3d 1122 (Pa. Super. 2015). Examining the implied consent statute, the Superior Court noted that Subsection 1547(b)(1) "provides a driver under arrest with [a] statutory right of refusal to blood testing." Id. at 1129 (quoting 75 Pa.C.S. § 1547(b)(1) ). Because Myers was unconscious at...

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