People v. Simpson, Supreme Court Case No. 15SA330

Citation392 P.3d 1207
Decision Date17 April 2017
Docket NumberSupreme Court Case No. 15SA330
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff–Appellant v. William Paul SIMPSON, Defendant–Appellee.
CourtSupreme Court of Colorado

Attorneys for PlaintiffAppellant: George H. Brauchler, District Attorney, Eighteenth Judicial District, Jennifer Gilbert, Deputy District Attorney, Richard Orman, Senior Deputy District Attorney, Centennial, Colorado.

Attorneys for DefendantAppellee: Douglas K. Wilson, Public Defender, Elsa Archambault, Lucienne Ohanian, Centennial, Colorado.

Attorneys for Amici Curiae Denver District Attorney's Office and Colorado District Attorneys' Council: Mitchell R. Morrissey, District Attorney, Second Judicial District, Katherine A. Hansen, Deputy District Attorney, Denver, Colorado.

En Banc

JUSTICE HOOD delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 Colorado's Expressed Consent Statute provides that any motorist who drives on the roads of the state has consented to take a blood or breath test when requested to do so by a law enforcement officer with probable cause to suspect the motorist of driving under the influence. In this interlocutory appeal, we review the trial court's ruling that an advisement accurately informing the defendant, William Paul Simpson, of this law amounted to coercion that rendered his consent to a blood test involuntary and required suppression of the test result.

¶ 2 By driving in Colorado, Simpson consented to the terms of the Expressed Consent Statute, including its requirement that he submit to a blood draw under the circumstances present here. That prior statutory consent eliminated the need for the trial court to assess the voluntariness of Simpson's consent at the time of his interaction with law enforcement. Simpson's prior statutory consent satisfies the consent exception to the warrant requirement under the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, the blood draw at issue here was constitutional. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's suppression of the blood-draw evidence.

I. Facts and Procedural History

¶ 3 On January 25, 2015, Officer Mason MacDonald saw a pickup truck bounce off a curb four times, turn across a median, and then oversteer into oncoming traffic while entering an apartment complex parking lot. Officer MacDonald turned on his overhead lights and followed the truck into the parking lot. The truck initially stopped but then slowly crept forward.

¶ 4 Eventually, the truck came to a full stop. Officer MacDonald approached and found Simpson in the driver's seat. Officer MacDonald immediately smelled alcohol on Simpson's breath and saw that Simpson's eyes were red and watery. He asked Simpson whether he had been drinking, and Simpson replied in the affirmative. He asked Simpson to get out of the truck, but Simpson was unable to comply without assistance. Simpson was ultimately transported to the hospital for medical attention.

¶ 5 At the hospital, Officer MacDonald read Simpson an expressed consent advisement form titled "Colorado Express Consent Law Information." In relevant part, the form stated:

1. By driving a motor vehicle in Colorado, you have agreed to submit to a blood or breath test to determine the alcohol content of your blood or breath if a police officer has probable cause to believe you have been driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of, or impaired by, alcohol.
5. A refusal to sign any release or consent forms required by a person authorized to take or withdraw specimens is a refusal to submit to the required tests.
6. The results of the test, or your refusal to take the test, can be used against you in court.
7. If you refuse to submit to a test, your driving privilege will be revoked for one year. This revocation would be in addition to any penalties resulting from the charges filed against you.

The bottom of the form asked, "Which test do you choose to submit to?" and instructed the reader to initial the appropriate line, with one line for blood and one for breath.

¶ 6 Officer MacDonald explained that because breath tests were unavailable in the hospital, he would be able to offer Simpson a blood test only. He gave Simpson the expressed consent form to read. Simpson reviewed the form and then initialed it on the line labeled "BLOOD." Simpson also signed the "Officer's signature" line, instead of the line designated for the test-taker's signature. A nurse completed the blood draw, which revealed that Simpson had a blood-alcohol content of 0.448, more than five times the level necessary by statute to permit an inference of driving under the influence of alcohol ("DUI"), § 42-4-1301(6)(a)(III), C.R.S. (2016).

¶ 7 Simpson was charged with DUI, among other offenses related to the incident. Before trial, he filed a suppression motion claiming that the blood draw was an unconstitutional search. In support of that motion, Simpson claimed he was too drunk to give valid consent to a search and that at his level of intoxication, even the slightest police direction amounted to coercion.

¶ 8 At a motions hearing, the trial court found that the reading of the expressed consent advisement, due to its "express threats and statements that [the driver has] already consented to submit to a blood and breath test to determine alcohol content," was coercive. The court concluded that any consent given after the reading of this advisement could not be voluntary, so it determined that Simpson's consent was invalid and the search was unconstitutional. Accordingly, the trial court suppressed the blood-draw evidence.

¶ 9 The next day, supplementing its oral ruling, the trial court published a written order concerning Simpson's motion to suppress the blood test results. First, the court revisited its voluntariness determination, explaining that the expressed consent form and Officer MacDonald's statement that only a blood test was available "would cause any reasonable person (and certainly a person in Defendant's highly inebriated condition) to conclude that they had no choice but to submit to the blood test and, thus, ... rise to the level of undue influence exercised against Defendant which renders his alleged consent involuntary."

¶ 10 The court later expressed concern that it had neglected to address all issues related to the constitutionality of the search at the hearing and examined whether, despite the absence of voluntary consent, the blood draw might nevertheless be justified as reasonable due to exigent circumstances. The court concluded that no such circumstances existed. It therefore reaffirmed its suppression ruling.

¶ 11 The People filed this interlocutory appeal pursuant to section 16-12-102(2), C.R.S. (2016), and C.A.R. 4.1.

II. Standard of Review

¶ 12 Review of a trial court's suppression order presents a mixed question of law and fact. People v. Munoz-Gutierrez , 2015 CO 9, ¶ 14, 342 P.3d 439, 443. We defer to the trial court's findings of fact that are supported by the record, but we assess the legal effect of those facts de novo. Id. ; see also People v. Chavez-Barragan , 2016 CO 66, ¶¶ 33–35, 379 P.3d 330, 338 (examining the standards of review this court has historically applied to questions of voluntariness); People v. Matheny , 46 P.3d 453, 459 (Colo.2002) ("[W]hen a constitutional right is implicated ... appellate courts should not defer to a lower court's judgment when applying legal standards to the facts found by the trial court.").

III. Analysis

¶ 13 We begin by describing Colorado's Expressed Consent Statute. Next, we review relevant Fourth Amendment principles, including the consent exception to the warrant requirement. We then explain that by choosing to drive in Colorado, Simpson consented to the terms of the Expressed Consent Statute, including its requirement that he submit to a blood draw under the circumstances present here. We conclude that this statutory consent satisfied the consent exception to the warrant requirement. Therefore, the blood draw was constitutional. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's suppression order.

A. Colorado's Expressed Consent Statute

¶ 14 Colorado's Expressed Consent Statute ("the Statute"), section 42-4-1301.1, C.R.S. (2016), provides that "[a]ny person who drives any motor vehicle ... throughout [the] state shall be deemed to have expressed such person's consent to the provisions of this section." § 42-4-1301.1(1). The Statute further declares:

A person who drives a motor vehicle upon the streets and highways and elsewhere throughout this state shall be required to take and complete, and to cooperate in the taking and completing of, any test or tests of the person's breath or blood for the purpose of determining the alcoholic content of the person's blood or breath when so requested and directed by a law enforcement officer having probable cause to believe that the person was driving a motor vehicle in violation of the prohibitions against DUI....

§ 42-4-1301.1(2)(a)(I). The driver may choose between a blood or breath test, but a blood test will be administered if the driver is receiving medical treatment at a location where a breath testing instrument is unavailable. § 42-4-1301.1(2)(a)(II).

¶ 15 The statutory scheme spells out the procedures to be followed if a driver refuses to submit to a test. If the driver subsequently stands trial for driving under the influence, the "refusal to take or to complete, or to cooperate with the completing of, any test or tests shall be admissible into evidence at the trial." § 42-4-1301(6)(d), C.R.S. (2016). The individual's driver's license will also be revoked for at least one year. § 42-2-126(3)(c)(I), C.R.S. (2016). These provisions do not create a statutory right to revoke consent.

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