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- "Is it unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment for an officer to rely on a driver's implied consent to a blood draw when the driver was involved in an accident, there is probable cause to believe he is intoxicated, and where the driver's own unconsciousness prevents the officer from effectively obtaining the driver's actual consent?"
- "Were there sufficient exigent circumstances to justify the warrantless blood draw where (1) the officers were occupied with the accident investigation, (2) the defendant had fled the scene and remained unidentified for some time, and (3) where there were few officers or magistrates on hand to expeditiously obtain a warrant?"
Ruiz was involved in an accident and fled the scene. The officer found him nearby smelling of alcohol and unconscious. EMS transported Ruiz to the hospital, where he remained unresponsive. Believing she had probable cause to arrest Ruiz for DWI, the officer directed lab technicians obtain a blood sample. The officer testified that it was unreasonable to obtain a warrant because it would have taken 2-3 hours; it was difficult to find a judge late at night, only two officers were on duty and she did not want to take one off duty, and there were no procedures to obtain blood-draw warrants. The trial court granted Ruiz's motion to suppress. The court acknowledged that Ruiz had not revoked his implied consent under Tex. Transp. Code § 724.011 but held that there were no exigent circumstances to justify the draw.
The State appealed, and a majority of the court of appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling. It rejected the State's reliance on Section 724.011's presumption that implied consent is not withdrawn when a person is unconscious. Consent, the court said, must be free and voluntary and Ruiz was unconscious and did not consent. Further, implied consent laws do not appear to dispense with the warrant requirement and are not recognized exceptions. The court also held that exigent circumstances did not support the search because the State presented no evidence that dissipation was imminent or that an alternative means to get a magistrate, like the telephone, was unavailable.
The dissenting justice stated that this is the type of situation in which implying consent makes sense; obtaining consent freely and voluntarily from an unconscious person is impossible. Additionally, the officer could have reasonably concluded that destruction of blood evidence was imminent. The officer was required to investigate the scene and to identify and find Ruiz. Ruiz was unconscious and needed emergency medical attention. The officer testified that it would take her 2-3 hours to find a judge, drive to the judge's home, and then return to the hospital.
The State argues that the court of appeals' majority ignored the plain meaning of the implied consent statute. And pointing to the facts relied upon by the dissent, the State contends that the majority did not take into account the information known to the officer at the time.