State v. Romano, 199PA16

Citation369 N.C. 678, 800 S.E.2d 644
Case DateJune 09, 2017
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

369 N.C. 678
800 S.E.2d 644

STATE of North Carolina
Joseph Mario ROMANO

No. 199PA16

Supreme Court of North Carolina.

Filed June 9, 2017

Joshua H. Stein, Attorney General, by Derrick C. Mertz, Special Deputy Attorney General, for the State-appellant/appellee.

800 S.E.2d 646

Glenn Gerding, Appellate Defender, by Constance E. Widenhouse and Andrew DeSimone, Assistant Appellate Defenders, for defendant-appellant/appellee.

BEASLEY, Justice.

369 N.C. 680

The issue before us in this case is whether N.C.G.S. § 20-16.2(b), which authorizes law enforcement to obtain a blood sample from an unconscious defendant who is suspected of driving while impaired without first obtaining a search warrant, was unconstitutionally applied to defendant. The trial court suppressed the results of defendant's blood test on Fourth Amendment grounds, and the Court of Appeals affirmed that decision. We now affirm the opinion of the Court of Appeals as modified herein.

On 6 October 2014, defendant was indicted for felony habitual driving while impaired and driving while his license was revoked. These charges were based on events that occurred on 17 February 2014. On 26 January 2015, defendant filed a pretrial motion to suppress all evidence gathered after his arrest. The motion was heard on 2 and 3 February 2015.

Based on the evidence presented at the suppression hearing, the trial court found the following facts. On 17 February 2014, Officer Tammy Bryson responded to a dispatch indicating that a white male wearing his sweater backwards and carrying a liquor bottle had stopped his SUV in the travel portion of a public road, gotten out of the vehicle, and stumbled across the multilane highway. Officer Bryson found Joseph Romano (defendant), who matched the description of the driver, sitting behind a restaurant "approximately 400 feet from the abandoned SUV." Officer Bryson observed that defendant was making incoherent statements, that his speech was slurred, that he was unable to stand due to his obvious intoxication, and that he smelled strongly of alcohol and vomit. Officer Bryson determined that defendant's faculties were appreciably impaired. Defendant was arrested for driving while impaired (DWI), and, due to his extreme level of intoxication, defendant was transported to a hospital for medical treatment. Officer Bryson requested the assistance of Sergeant Ann Fowler, a Drug Recognition Expert.

Defendant was belligerent and combative throughout his encounters with law enforcement and medical personnel. At the hospital, medical staff and law enforcement attempted to restrain defendant. Medical personnel determined it was necessary to medicate defendant to calm him down. Sergeant Fowler told the treating nurse "that she would likely need a blood draw for law enforcement purposes." Before defendant was medicated, Sergeant Fowler did not "advise[ ] [him] of his chemical analysis rights," "request[ ] that he submit[ ] to a blood draw," or obtain a warrant for a blood search. After defendant was medically subdued, the treating nurse drew blood for medical treatment purposes; however, the nurse drew more blood than was needed for treatment

369 N.C. 681

purposes and offered the additional blood for law enforcement use. Before accepting the blood sample, Sergeant Fowler attempted to get defendant's consent to the blood draw or receipt of the evidence, but she was unable to wake him. The trial court found as fact that "[d]ue to his medically induced state, the Defendant was rendered unable to meaningfully receive and consider his blood test rights, unable to give or withhold his informed consent, and/or unable to exercise his right to refuse the warrantless test."

During this entire series of events, multiple officers were present to assist with the investigation, "such that an officer could have left to drive the relatively short distance (only a few miles) to the Buncombe County Magistrate's Office to obtain a search warrant." Sergeant Fowler was familiar with the blood search warrant procedure, and search warrants for a blood draw are fill-in-the-blank forms that are not time-consuming; moreover, magistrates were on duty and available during the relevant time period. Sergeant Fowler did not attempt to obtain a warrant for defendant's blood nor did she believe any exigency existed. Instead, she "expressly relied upon the statutory authorization set forth in [subsection] 20-16.2(b)," which allows the taking and testing of blood from a person who has committed a DWI if the person is "unconscious or otherwise in a condition that makes the person incapable of refusal." After taking possession of defendant's blood, Sergeant Fowler "drove to the

800 S.E.2d 647

Buncombe County Magistrate's Office and swore out warrants for the present charges," and then returned to the hospital and served the warrants on defendant. The trial court found that "nothing prevent[ed] her from obtaining a search warrant [for defendant's blood] at the same time she [obtained the other warrants] and then subsequently seizing the blood."

The trial court quoted Missouri v. McNeely , 569 U.S. 141, 133 S.Ct. 1552, 185 L.Ed.2d 696 (2013), which states that "a warrantless search of the person is reasonable only if it falls within a recognized exception," such as "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. at ––––, 133 S.Ct. at 1558 (citations omitted). A court "looks to the totality of circumstances" to determine whether exigent circumstances justified law enforcement in acting without a warrant. Id. at ––––, 133 S.Ct. at 1559 (citations omitted).

The trial court concluded as a matter of law that the seizure of defendant's blood "was a search subject to Fourth Amendment protection," and, under "a totality of the circumstances test, no exigency existed justifying a warrantless search." The court concluded that

369 N.C. 682

N.C.G.S. § 20-16.2(b) "creates a per se exigency exception to the warrant requirement," and as applied here violates the holding in McNeely . Therefore, "any subsequent testing performed by law enforcement on the seized blood must be suppressed."

At the conclusion of the hearing on 3 February 2015, the court ruled orally on defendant's motions to suppress. The court then filed written orders on 23 March 2015.1 The State timely appealed the trial court's order suppressing the blood test results.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's order suppressing the test results of the blood that Sergeant Fowler obtained from defendant at the hospital. State v. Romano , ––– N.C. App. ––––, ––––, 785 S.E.2d 168, 175 (2016). The court quoted McNeely ’s holding that " ‘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.’ " Id. at ––––, 785 S.E.2d at 173 (quoting McNeely , 569 U.S. at ––––, 133 S.Ct. at 1556 ). The Court of Appeals determined that N.C.G.S. § 20-16.2(b) could not justify a warrantless blood draw from an unconscious DWI defendant because McNeely "sharply prohibits per se warrant exceptions for blood draw searches." Id. at ––––, 785 S.E.2d at 174.

Applying N.C.G.S. § 20-16.2(b) to the instant case, the Court of Appeals opined that "the record suggests, but does not affirmatively show, that [Sergeant] Fowler had ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe Defendant ... was intoxicated while he drove his SUV," as opposed to his becoming intoxicated while drinking rum after leaving his vehicle. Id. at ––––, 785 S.E.2d at 174. The court added: "More importantly, Fowler testified that she did not attempt to obtain a search warrant at any time, even though the magistrate's office was ‘a couple of miles’ away from the hospital." Id. at ––––, 785 S.E.2d at 174. The court concluded that

[t]he State's post hoc actions do not overcome the presumption that the warrantless search is unreasonable, and it offends the Fourth Amendment, the State Constitution, and McNeely . As the party seeking the warrant exception, the State did not carry its burden in proving "the exigencies of the situation made that [warrantless] course
369 N.C. 683
imperative." Coolidge [v. New Hampshire ], 403 U.S. [443,] 455, 91 S.[ ]Ct. 2022[, 2032, 29 L.Ed.2d 564 (1971) ]. Under the totality of the circumstances, considering the alleged exigencies of the situation, the warrantless blood draw was not objectively reasonable. See McNeely , [569] U.S. at ––––, 133 S.[ ]Ct. at 1558.

Romano , ––– N.C. App. at ––––, 785 S.E.2d at 174 (second alteration in original).

800 S.E.2d 648

The Court of Appeals also concluded that neither the independent source doctrine nor the good faith exception to the warrant requirement applied in this case. Id. at ––––, 785 S.E.2d at 174-75. The court first recognized that the State raised these arguments for the first time on appeal. Then,...

To continue reading

Request your trial
31 cases
  • State v. Strudwick
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • October 29, 2021 is unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt." Grady III , 372 N.C. at 521–22, 831 S.E.2d 542 (quoting first from State v. Romano , 369 N.C. 678, 685, 800 S.E.2d 644 (2017), then second from Cooper v. Berger , 370 N.C. 392, 413, 809 S.E.2d 98 (2018) ) (extraneity omitted). It is the bur......
  • State v. Prado
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • June 18, 2021
    ...v. Dennis, 96 Mass.App.Ct. 528, 135 N.E.3d 1070, 1078-79 (2019) ; State v. Vargas, 404 P.3d 416, 422 (N.M. 2017) ; State v. Romano, 369 N.C. 678, 800 S.E.2d 644, 652 (2017) ; Stewart v. State, 442 P.3d 158, 162 (Okla. Crim. App. 2019) ; State v. Ruiz, 581 S.W.3d 782, 786-87 (Tex. Crim. App.......
  • Commonwealth v. Myers, 7 EAP 2016
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • July 19, 2017 analysis, the notion also reached to the implied-consent context. See 164 A.3d 1184 North Carolina v. Romano , 800 S.E.2d 644, 653–54 n.9, 2017 WL 2492782, at *9 n.9 (N.C. 2017) ; see also Hyde , 393 P.3d at 968 ("[T]he [ Birchfield ] Court considered laws that imp......
  • McGraw v. State, 4D17–232
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • March 21, 2018
    ...377 Wis.2d 730, 2017 WL 3078331 (Wis. Ct. App.), review granted, 378 Wis.2d 427, 905 N.W.2d 840 (Wis. 2017) ; State v. Romano, 369 N.C. 678, 800 S.E.2d 644 (2017) ; People v. Hyde, 393 P.3d 962 (Colo. 2017) ; State v. Havatone, 241 Ariz. 506, 389 P.3d 1251 (2017).In other cases, the defenda......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Special needs' and other fourth amendment searches
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Suppressing Criminal Evidence Fourth amendment searches and seizures
    • April 1, 2022
    ...a blood sample from a nurse treating an unconscious patient, when there were no other exigent circumstances present. State v. Romano , 800 S.E.2d 644 (NC 2017). Arizona reached at similar result in State v. Havatone , 389 P.3d 1251 (AZ 2017), subject to the good-faith exception for cases pr......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT