Unruh v. State

Decision Date07 March 1996
Docket NumberNo. 85046,85046
Citation669 So.2d 242
Parties21 Fla. L. Weekly S104 Ronald J. UNRUH, Petitioner, v. STATE of Florida, Respondent.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Application for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal--Certified Great Public Importance, Fifth District--Case No. 93-2314 (Volusia County).

French C. Davis, Daytona Beach, for Petitioner.

Steve Alexander, State Attorney, and Ben Fox, Assistant State Attorney, Daytona Beach, for Respondent.

KOGAN, Justice.

We have for review State v. Unruh, 658 So.2d 1011 (Fla. 5th DCA 1994). We accepted jurisdiction to answer the following question which was certified to be of great public importance: 1


658 So.2d at 1014.

After being arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI), Ronald J Unruh was asked to take a breathalyzer test at the Ormond Beach Police Department. Unruh indicated he preferred a blood test. The police officer told Unruh his only choice was to consent or refuse to take the breathalyzer as the police department did not offer a blood test. Unruh then took the breathalyzer test. However, the police officer told Unruh he could arrange a blood test after being processed and booked into the Volusia County jail. The police never told Unruh he could not have a blood test if he made the arrangements. Some dispute remains whether Unruh had access to a telephone at the Ormond Beach Police Department.

Unruh filed a motion to suppress the breathalyzer results due to the state's alleged denial of his blood test request. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial (county) court denied the motion, finding that Unruh was not precluded from obtaining an independent blood test, that law enforcement does not have an affirmative duty to ensure a defendant receives an independent blood test, and that the officer's actions did not actively prevent Unruh from obtaining a blood test. Thereafter, Unruh was tried and convicted of DUI under section 316.193, Florida Statutes (1991).

On appeal, the circuit court reversed and remanded for a new trial, noting the apparent conflict between section 316.1932(1)(f)3., Florida Statutes, 2 which provides for the independent blood test, and section 316.193(9), Florida Statutes, 3 which requires a mandatory holding period for DUI arrestees. In noting that the mandatory holding statute effectively nullified the independent blood test statute, the circuit court held that law enforcement had an affirmative duty to transport the arrestee to a blood testing facility. Without this affirmative assistance, the circuit court reasoned, the mandatory holding period would prevent the arrestee from having a meaningful blood test, as a post-custody blood sample would measure a blood alcohol level that had dissipated. Thus, the circuit court concluded that a post-release blood test would yield exculpatory evidence of little or no value to the arrestee.

Subsequently, the Fifth District Court of Appeal quashed the circuit court's order after finding a departure from the essential requirements of the law. 658 So.2d at 1012. Relying on the Second District Court of Appeal's decision in State v. Saylor, 625 So.2d 907 (Fla. 2d DCA 1993), the district court held that law enforcement did not have an affirmative duty to assist Unruh in obtaining an independent blood test. According to the district court, the only requirement of law enforcement was not to engage in active wrongdoing by interfering with Unruh's right to arrange for an independent blood test. See State v. Durkee, 584 So.2d 1080 (Fla. 5th DCA) (holding breathalyzer results could be suppressed where authorities refused to allow DUI arrestee to obtain independent blood test) review dismissed, 592 So.2d 682 (Fla.1991). The district court then certified the above question for our review. 658 So.2d at 1014.

For the reasons expressed below, we answer the certified question in the affirmative, and hold that law enforcement must render reasonable assistance in helping a DUI arrestee obtain an independent blood test upon request. In some cases, minimal aid such as providing access to a telephone and directory will be sufficient; in others, more active assistance such as transporting the arrestee to a blood testing facility will be necessary. Whether the assistance provided is "reasonable" and thus sufficient to satisfy law enforcement's duty under the statute will depend on the circumstances of each case.

We begin our analysis with a review of the law in this area. This Court has recognized that a DUI arrestee "has the right to have a [blood] sample taken and analysis made by an independent expert" under section 316.1932(1)(f) 3. Houser v. State, 474 So.2d 1193, 1195 n. 1 (Fla.1985). However, we have never addressed the issue presented here--whether law enforcement has an affirmative duty in connection with that right. As the district court points out, there is a split of opinion on the issue in the various county courts. At least two county courts have held that law enforcement has an affirmative duty to assist an arrestee in obtaining an independent test, while at least as many have held that law enforcement has no such duty. See 658 So.2d at 1014 n. 5 and cases cited therein. The Second District has reached the same conclusion as the Fifth District in this case--that no duty exists.

In State v. Saylor, two DUI arrestees requested independent blood tests after taking the state-administered breathalyzer. 625 So.2d at 908. The requests were denied because "law enforcement policy did not authorize or require that a blood alcohol test be made available to a DUI arrestee upon request." Id. On motion of the arrestees, the county court suppressed the breathalyzer results for failure to comply with section 316.1932(1)(f) 3. Id. The Second District reversed, concluding that the legislature did not intend "to obligate the state to help an arrestee gather evidence for his defense." Id. at 909.

In contrast, neighboring jurisdictions have found that law enforcement has an affirmative duty to assist under similarly worded independent test statutes. See Lockard v. Town of Killen, 565 So.2d 679 (Ala.Crim.App.1990); Puett v. State, 147 Ga.App. 300, 248 S.E.2d 560 (Ga.Ct.App.1978). For example, in Lockard, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals likewise was faced with a situation where the right to an independent blood test 4 was counterposed by a mandatory holding statute. 5 565 So.2d at 681. The DUI arrestee in Lockard requested an independent blood test both before and after taking the state's breathalyzer test. After being given a phone book, the arrestee arranged a blood test with a local hospital. However, the hospital only administered the blood test on site. When the arrestee informed the police, they placed him in the "drunk tank" rather than transporting him to the hospital. The Alabama court found that, under the circumstances, law enforcement's non-cooperation denied the arrestee a reasonable opportunity to secure an independent test. 565 So.2d at 681. The court went on to hold that when a DUI arrestee fully complies with police requests to take a breathalyzer and then subsequently arranges his own blood test, "he is entitled to police transportation to the test site so that the test may be administered." Id. at 682. As the arrestee could not be released until his blood alcohol content fell below .10%, the court reasoned that "[h]e had no realistic opportunity to be tested except by stating his wish to the police and, in turn, by their cooperating." Id. at 681.

The Georgia Court of Appeals in Puett similarly ruled under almost identical facts. In addition to the arrestee's right to an independent test under the Georgia statute, 6 the Puett court held that law enforcement have "a corresponding duty ... not to deny him that right." 248 S.E.2d at 561. The DUI arrestee in Puett also had arranged a blood test at a local hospital. The court found that law enforcement's failure or refusal to take the arrestee to the hospital for his pre-arranged blood test constituted denial of his right under statute. Id. The Georgia court reasoned that the right to an independent test would be of little value absent such law enforcement assistance. Id.

As a fundamental rule of statutory interpretation, "courts should avoid readings that would render part of a statute meaningless." Forsythe v. Longboat Key Beach Erosion Control Dist., 604 So.2d 452, 456 (Fla.1992); Villery v. Florida Parole & Probation Comm'n, 396 So.2d 1107 (Fla.1980); Cilento v. State, 377 So.2d 663 (Fla.1979). Furthermore, whenever possible "courts must give full effect to all statutory provisions and construe related statutory provisions in harmony with one another." Forsythe, 604 So.2d at 455. This follows the general rule that the legislature does not intend "to enact purposeless and therefore useless, legislation." Sharer v. Hotel Corp. of America, 144 So.2d 813, 817 (Fla.1962).

Contrary to these guiding principles, the Fifth District's interpretation in the instant case and the Second District's interpretation in Saylor render section 316.1932(1)(f)3. meaningless. To be sure, law enforcement's duty to assist a DUI arrestee is not self-executing; law enforcement must render reasonable assistance only upon request from an arrestee that he or she desires an independent blood test. We agree with the dissent below that this interpretation of the statute fulfills the legislature's intent "to afford an individual the opportunity to verify or challenge the accuracy of the test given by law enforcement and to document any discrepancy." Unruh, 658 So.2d at 1015 (Griffin, J., dissenting); accord Gibson v. City of Troy, 481 So.2d 463, 467 (Ala.Crim.App.1985) ("The purpose of allowing an accused to obtain an...

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