State v. Blancas, Docket No. 48357

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Writing for the CourtBRODY, Justice.
Citation515 P.3d 718
Parties STATE of Idaho, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Jesus Juan Carlos BLANCAS, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket NumberDocket No. 48357
Decision Date11 August 2022

515 P.3d 718

STATE of Idaho, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
Jesus Juan Carlos BLANCAS, Defendant-Appellant.

Docket No. 48357

Supreme Court of Idaho, Boise, January 2022 Term.

Opinion Filed: August 11, 2022


Eric D. Fredericksen, State Appellant Public Defender, Boise, for Appellant. Jenny Swinford argued.

Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for Respondent. Kale Gans argued.

BRODY, Justice.

This is a case about the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement in an investigation for suspected driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). Jesus Juan Carlos Blancas was stopped by Idaho State Police Sergeant Chris Elverud. Elverud suspected Blancas of driving under the influence and administered four breath tests, but only one produced a valid result. That test indicated that Blancas’ blood alcohol content (BAC) was nearly three times the legal limit. Elverud then took Blancas to a hospital to collect a blood sample for testing. Blancas refused to consent to the blood draw, and Elverud attempted to reach an on-call magistrate judge to obtain a warrant. After failing to reach the on-call magistrate judge, Elverud instructed hospital staff to draw Blancas’ blood under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement. We hold that the warrantless blood draw violated Blancas’ Fourth Amendment rights because the State failed to prove there was insufficient time to obtain a warrant and, therefore, failed to prove exigent circumstances justified the warrantless draw.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

At 1:20 AM on the morning of April 14, 2019, Elverud stopped Blancas’ car in Bonneville County after observing Blancas change lanes without signaling, cross the center line, and fail to maintain a consistent speed. After

515 P.3d 720

approaching the car and talking with Blancas, Elverud smelled an odor of alcohol emanating from the car. Blancas’ speech was slurred, his eyes were glassy and bloodshot, and he struggled to remove his wallet from his pants pocket to produce his driver's license. Elverud administered the horizontal gaze nystagmus, one-leg stand, and walk-and-turn field sobriety tests. Blancas failed each test and Elverud placed him under arrest for suspected DUI at 1:33 AM.

Elverud asked Blancas if he would consent to a breath test to measure his BAC, and he played the administrative license suspension (ALS) advisory recording to inform Blancas of the consequences of refusing consent. Blancas initially refused, but eventually provided four breath samples, though only one produced a valid result. It showed a BAC of .234. The district court found that Blancas had intentionally delayed the investigation by "playing games," including by failing to comply with instructions for some of the breath tests.

Because Blancas did not provide two valid breath tests, Elverud told Blancas he was going to take him to a hospital to collect a blood sample. Blancas refused to consent to a blood draw. Before arriving at the hospital, Elverud learned that Blancas had been convicted of a prior felony DUI in 2012. Elverud parked his patrol car at the emergency room entrance and called the on-call prosecutor about obtaining a warrant to collect the blood sample at 2:53 AM.

The prosecutor told Elverud to contact the on-call magistrate, but indicated she was out of town at a judicial conference. The prosecutor then advised, "if you're not able to get ahold of her, just draw the blood and do it ... on exigency grounds." After talking to the prosecutor, Elverud called dispatch with the name of the on-call magistrate, and dispatch provided Elverud with her contact information. Elverud tried and failed to reach the magistrate judge by cell phone, making three calls between 3:03 AM and 3:06 AM. He then took Blancas into the hospital and requested a blood draw from hospital staff at 3:08 AM. The blood draw showed Blancas had a BAC of .249.

The State charged Blancas with felony DUI under Idaho Code section 18-8005(9), alleging that he had previously been convicted of a felony DUI within the last 15 years. Blancas moved to suppress the results of the blood draw, alleging the exigency exception to the warrant requirement was not satisfied. The district court held a hearing on Blancas’ motion to suppress. Elverud testified at the hearing and the dash-cam video of Blancas’ arrest and the following events were admitted as evidence.

The district court denied Blancas’ motion to suppress. It found that Blancas had attempted to delay the investigation by "playing games," and lengthened the investigation "beyond [the delay] allowed under an exercise of his Constitutional rights." Then, noting Elverud's unsuccessful attempt to reach the on-call magistrate and the natural metabolization of alcohol in Blancas’ bloodstream, the district court concluded, under the totality of circumstances, that "the exigencies of the situation made the need of obtaining a valid BAC prior to destruction of the evidence so compelling that [a] warrantless search was objectively reasonable."

Blancas entered a conditional plea of guilty to felony DUI, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. The district court sentenced Blancas to 10 years, with four years fixed, suspended execution of the sentence, and placed Blancas on probation for six years. Blancas timely appealed.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court reviews the denial of a motion to suppress using a bifurcated standard. State v. Danney , 153 Idaho 405, 408, 283 P.3d 722, 725 (2012). The Court will "accept the trial court's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous but will freely review the trial court's application of constitutional principles to the facts found." Id.

III. ANALYSIS

Blancas’ primary argument relies on a statement in State v. Chernobieff , 161 Idaho 537, 387 P.3d 790 (2016) (" Chernobieff I "), that "when an on-call magistrate is unable to be reached by law enforcement, the State has

515 P.3d 721

the burden of showing why that is the case and that good cause exists for the unavailability." Id. at 541, 387 P.3d at 794. Blancas asserts that, consistent with Chernobieff I , the preeminent factor in determining whether exigent circumstances existed in this case is the reason for the magistrate's unavailability. Because he maintains that attendance at an out-of-town judicial conference was not good cause, he argues that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress. Blancas also argues that even if additional factors are considered, they "do not tip the scale in favor of an exigency."

The State argues that Blancas’ argument under Chernobieff I is without merit because the statement he cites was held to be dicta in Chernobieff v. State , 168 Idaho 98, 480 P.3d 136 (2021) (" Chernobieff II "). Further, the State maintains that the district court correctly found Blancas’ conduct created an exigency considering all the relevant factors.

The State is correct that Blancas’ reliance on the statement in Chernobieff I is misplaced because it is dicta. However, we agree with Blancas that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress because, regardless of the reason for the magistrate judge's unavailability, exigent circumstances did not exist.

A. The warrantless blood draw was not justified by exigent circumstances.

"Requiring that a person submit to a blood alcohol test is a search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution ...." State v. Wulff , 157 Idaho 416, 418, 337 P.3d 575, 577 (2014). "Warrantless searches and seizures are presumptively unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment." Id. at 419, 337 P.3d at 578 (citing Coolidge v. New Hampshire , 403 U.S. 443, 454–55, 91 S.Ct. 2022, 29 L.Ed.2d 564 (1971) ). "However, because the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is ‘reasonableness,’ the warrant requirement is subject to certain exceptions." State v. Smith , 168 Idaho 463, 471–72, 483 P.3d 1006, 1014–15 (2021) (citing Brigham City, Utah v. Stuart , 547 U.S. 398, 403, 126 S.Ct. 1943, 164 L.Ed.2d 650 (2006) ). "One well-recognized exception applies 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.’ " Kentucky v. King , 563 U.S. 452, 460, 131 S.Ct. 1849, 179 L.Ed.2d 865 (2011) (quoting Mincey v. Arizona , 437 U.S. 385, 394, 98 S.Ct. 2408, 57 L.Ed.2d 290 (1978) ).

"Exceptions to the warrant requirement are ‘few in number and carefully delineated,’ and ... police bear a heavy burden when attempting to demonstrate [that] an urgent need ... justif[ies] warrantless searches or arrests. Indeed, the [United States Supreme] Court has recognized only a few such emergency conditions." Welsh v. Wisconsin , 466 U.S. 740, 749–50, 104 S.Ct. 2091, 80 L.Ed.2d 732 (1984) (citation omitted). The risk of imminent destruction of evidence can be such an emergency. State v. Smith , 168 Idaho 463, 472, 483 P.3d 1006, 1015 (2021). Thus, if "the facts, as they appeared at the precise moment in question, would lead a reasonable, experienced officer to believe that evidence might be destroyed before a warrant could be...

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