Monday, June 28, 2010

DWI Blood Draws - "The most important decision we make all year."

Here are a couple of recent published decisions from the Courts of Appeals regarding the taking of blood samples for suspicion of DWI.

We'll begin with State v. Robinson – (10th District – Waco), June 16, 2010.

In this case, the Court upheld the trial court’s suppression of blood test results because (arguably) the State did not comply with the requirement under section 724.017(a) of the Texas Transportation Code that “only a physician, qualified technician, chemist, registered professional nurse, or licensed vocational nurse…take a blood specimen at the request or order of a peace officer.” The defendant, who had the initial burden to produce evidence that the statute was violated and that the evidence should be excluded, apparently shifted his burden to the State and the trial court ultimately held that because the State could not produce credible evidence that an actual nurse drew the defendant’s blood, the test results should be excluded.

Chief Justice Gray “strongly dissent[ed],” characterizing this case at the “certainly the most important decision” the Court has made “in a criminal case this year.”  He notes from the outset that "the hearing was before a county judge who would not be expected to be fully in tune with the niceties of a shifting of the burden of proof."
It is clear that the trial court placed the burden of proof to show that the blood draw was performed in compliance with the statute, Texas Transportation Code section 724.017, on the State, failing to prove such the trial court was going to suppress the blood evidence. Specifically, the trial court was focused on the fact that the State had not provided to the court’s satisfaction that the person who drew the blood was qualified as required by the statute.
Highlighting what he sees that the important practical implications of this decision, Chief Justice Gray writes:
If all a defendant has to do is to move to suppress evidence and then the State must go forward to prove the evidence was lawfully obtained, we can expect to see an even greater number of these motions and related appeals. A defendant can essentially file a motion in every case and the State will have to defend the manner in which the evidence was obtained. Thus, the presumption of proper police conduct is destroyed.
I'm with Chief Justice Gray on this one.  A thin record and an illogical burden shift should have made this case a winner for the State.  Discretionary review, perhaps?

Now onto State v. Jordan – (3rd District – Austin), June 17, 2010.

In Jordan the Court held that the affidavit for a search warrant to obtain Appellant’s blood sample for suspicion of DWI was deficient as it failed to allege the specific date and time the officer observed the conduct giving rise to the arrest. The State argued that because the blood was drawn at 4:20 am on June 6, 2008, the same day as the affidavit was signed, then no more than 4 hours and twenty minutes could have elapsed since the time of the observed conduct and the taking of Appellant’s blood. The Court, however, was not persuaded that the alleged offense and the completing of the affidavit occurred on the same day. Suppression of blood results affirmed.