State v. Shriner

Decision Date30 May 2008
Docket NumberNo. A07-181.,A07-181.
Citation751 N.W.2d 538
PartiesSTATE of Minnesota, Appellant, v. Janet Sue SHRINER, Respondent.
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, MN, James C. Backstrom, Dakota County Attorney, Debra Schmidt, Asst. Dakota County Attorney, Hastings, MN, for appellant.

Jeffrey B. Ring, Minneapolis, MN, for respondent.

Steven Heng, Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor, Minnesota County Attorneys Association, St. Paul, MN, for amicus curiae Minnesota County Attorneys Assoc.

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.


DIETZEN, Justice.

Appellant State of Minnesota challenges a district court order granting the motion of respondent Janet Sue Shriner (Shriner) to suppress evidence of a warrantless blood draw obtained after she caused a car accident. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that in order for a warrantless, nonconsensual blood draw to meet the requirements of the Fourth Amendment, there must be probable cause and exigent circumstances as demonstrated by an officer's evaluation of the totality of the circumstances. State v. Shriner, 739 N.W.2d 432, 440 (Minn.App.2007). The issue on this appeal is whether the evanescent nature of alcohol in the blood constitutes "single-factor" exigent circumstances sufficient to justify a warrantless blood draw when there is probable cause to arrest a suspect for operating a vehicle in violation of Minn.Stat. § 609.21 (2006). We granted review and now reverse and remand to the district court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

On May 8, 2006, at approximately 9:26 p.m., Shriner was involved in a car accident when she drove her car into oncoming traffic on McAndrews Road in Burnsville, Minnesota, hit another car in a head-on collision, and continued driving until she was forced to stop by a Burnsville squad car. The squad car bumped Shriner's vehicle, causing it to spin and go onto a cement median. Burnsville police requested that Shriner voluntarily leave her vehicle, but she refused. Police then forcibly removed her from the car after breaking a window and opening the door.

At that point, police observed that Shriner was not injured and that she smelled of alcohol, had blood-shot eyes that were glazed over, and was unable to stand without assistance. An officer then placed Shriner under arrest and put her in the back seat of his squad car. Shortly thereafter, he learned from other officers at the scene of the accident that the driver of the other vehicle had sustained head and leg injuries. The officer then took Shriner to a nearby hospital for the purpose of obtaining a blood sample. The officer did not invoke the implied-consent procedure or read the implied-consent advisory.

Medical personnel drew a blood sample from Shriner approximately 45 minutes after the accident. The State represented that subsequent analysis of Shriner's blood sample indicated her blood-alcohol content was 0.33.1 Before directing medical personnel to take the blood sample, the police did not obtain, or attempt to obtain, a search warrant.

The State charged Shriner with seven criminal counts, including first-degree driving while impaired and criminal vehicular operation resulting in bodily harm. Before trial, Shriner moved to have the results of the blood draw suppressed. At the omnibus hearing, Shriner conceded that there was probable cause to believe that she violated the criminal vehicular operation statute, but she argued that the State did not show exigent circumstances that would justify a warrantless, nonconsensual blood draw. The officer who transported Shriner to the hospital for the blood draw admitted that he was not worried that Shriner was "about to slip under the legal limit."

Following the hearing, the district court granted Shriner's motion to suppress, finding that there was probable cause to believe "that a blood alcohol test would result in the discovery of evidence relevant to prosecuting [Shriner] for a violation of Minn.Stat. § 609.21," but that the State failed to present evidence of exigent circumstances or that an emergency existed justifying a warrantless blood draw. Due to a lack of probable cause to support the charges, the court dismissed the counts of first-degree driving while impaired and criminal vehicular operation resulting in bodily harm.

The court of appeals affirmed the district court in a published 2-1 decision.2 State v. Shriner, 739 N.W.2d 432, 440 (Minn.App.2007). The majority concluded that the "Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution precludes using the results of a warrantless, nonconsensual blood draw in a criminal prosecution unless law enforcement has probable cause to believe criminal conduct has occurred and there are exigent circumstances in addition to evidence of alcohol consumption." Id. The majority applied a "totality-of-the-circumstances" test to determine whether exigent circumstances existed to necessitate conducting the blood draw without a warrant. Id. at 438. We granted the State's petition for further review.


The State contends that the district court erred in suppressing the results of the blood draw. "When reviewing a pretrial order on a motion to suppress evidence, we may independently review the facts and determine whether, as a matter of law, the district court erred in suppressing or not suppressing the evidence." State v. Askerooth, 681 N.W.2d 353, 359 (Minn.2004).

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Article I, section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution contains a parallel provision.

Taking a person's blood is considered a search under the Fourth Amendment. Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 767, 86 S.Ct. 1826, 16 L.Ed.2d 908 (1966). It is a basic principle of constitutional law that warrantless searches are presumptively unreasonable. State v. Liam, 659 N.W.2d 243, 250 (Minn.2003). "Nevertheless, because the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is `reasonableness,' the warrant requirement is subject to certain exceptions." Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403, 126 S.Ct. 1943, 164 L.Ed.2d 650 (2006).

One such exception is exigent circumstances. "`[W]arrants are generally required to search a person's home or his person unless `the exigencies of the situation' make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that the warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.'" Brigham City, 547 U.S. at 403, 126 S.Ct. 1943 (alteration in original) (quoting Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 393-94, 98 S.Ct. 2408, 57 L.Ed.2d 290 (1978)). "The U.S. Supreme Court has not adopted a definite test for determining when exigent circumstances exist." State v. Gray, 456 N.W.2d 251, 256 (Minn.1990). The Court, however, has recognized such emergency conditions exist in a few situations, including the hot pursuit of a fleeing felon, the destruction of evidence, an ongoing fire, and the rendering of emergency aid. Welsh v. Wisconsin, 466 U.S. 740, 750, 104 S.Ct. 2091, 80 L.Ed.2d 732 (1984); Gray, 456 N.W.2d at 256.

Initially, when this court discussed whether exigent circumstances existed to justify a warrantless search, we looked to the totality of circumstances and considered six factors that were articulated by the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in the case of Dorman v. United States, 435 F.2d 385 (1970).3 See State v. Lasley, 306 Minn. 224, 232, 236 N.W.2d 604, 609 (1975) (citing the six factors outlined in Dorman for determining whether "exigent circumstances" justified entering a suspect's home without a warrant). Determining whether exigent circumstances exist under the "totality of the circumstances" is a "flexible approach that encompasses all relevant circumstances." State v. Hummel, 483 N.W.2d 68, 73 (Minn.1992) (internal quotation marks omitted).

In State v. Gray, we refined our jurisprudence regarding exigent circumstances. We concluded "[t]here generally are two types of tests for exigent circumstances: (1) single factor exigent circumstances, and (2) in the absence of any of these factors, a `totality of the circumstances' test." 456 N.W.2d 251, 256 (Minn. 1990). We have described the test for single-factor exigent circumstances as one in which "the existence of one fact alone creates exigent circumstances." In re Welfare of D.A.G., 484 N.W.2d 787, 791 (Minn.1992) (emphasis added). It is only when "none of the single factor exigent circumstances is clearly implicated" that we apply a "totality of the circumstances" test to determine whether exigent circumstances are present. Gray, 456 N.W.2d at 256; see also In re Welfare of B.R.K., 658 N.W.2d 565, 579 (Minn.2003) ("When a `single factor' exigent circumstance does not exist, we apply a totality of the circumstances test."); D.A.G., 484 N.W.2d at 791. Thus, this court has acknowledged for nearly 20 years that the existence of one fact alone can create exigent circumstances that justify a warrantless search, and that in such a situation, we do not rely upon the totality of the circumstances in considering whether a warrantless search was proper.

We have recognized single-factor exigent circumstances justifying a warrantless search in cases involving hot pursuit of a fleeing felon, imminent destruction or removal of evidence, protection of human life, likely escape of the suspect, and fire. Gray, 456 N.W.2d at 256. More importantly, we have stated that a warrantless search is permissible "when the delay necessary to obtain a warrant might result in the loss or destruction of the evidence." State v. Richards, 552 N.W.2d 197, 203 (Minn.1996). Whether...

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