In December 2016, the Idaho Supreme Court decided the case of State v. Chernobieff. In this case, the court was asked to address whether exigent circumstances justified the decision to collect a blood sample from a defendant without first obtaining a warrant.
Daniel Chernobieff was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in September 2013. He refused to perform any of the field sobriety tests when requested to do so by Corporal Matthew Sly. After Chernobieff refused to take a breath test, Sly sought a warrant to get a blood sample from the defendant. Sly contacted the on-call prosecutor who then attempted to get in touch with the on-call magistrate. The prosecutor couldn't reach the judge, despite multiple attempts to do so. Because the judge was not available, the prosecutor then "directed Corporal Sly to perform a blood draw due to exigent circumstances." The results of the blood test showed that Chernobieff had a BAC of 0.226 and he was charged with a DUI. Chernobieff attempted to suppress the results of the blood test at trial, but his motion was denied by the magistrate court judge who found that "the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement applied under the specific facts of this case." The defendant entered a conditional guilty plea, "reserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress." Chernobieff then appealed his case all the way to the Idaho Supreme Court.
The state's highest court was tasked with determining whether there were exigent circumstances in Chernobieff's case that justified a blood draw without a warrant. The court noted that a blood draw is a 'search and seizure' under the Fourth Amendment and the Idaho Constitution. Because of this, a search that is conducted without a warrant needs to fall into a warrant exception. The court cited Missouri v. McNeely which stated, "Whether a warrantless blood test of a drunk-driving suspect is reasonable must be determined case by case based on the totality of the circumstances." The court stated that the dissipation of alcohol in the blood can justify a warrantless search in some cases but generally, a warrant should be obtained where it is reasonable to do so. The magistrate had determined that a warrantless search was justifiable in Chernobieff's case because in addition to delays caused by things like the time it took to take Chernobieff to jail, the prosecutor had made a "good-faith effort to reach a judge for a warrant" and there wasn't a backup judge he could contact.
Chernobieff disagreed, contending that the magistrate court had focused too much on the fact that the prosecutor had "made a good faith effort" to contact a judge and hadn't considered the totality of the circumstances. He stated that " the magistrate essentially concluded that when a prosecutor acts in good faith to obtain a warrant and is unsuccessful, a warrant is not required," which he contended "creates a per se exigency, which is prohibited by McNeely." He argued that this would mean "that any time the system fails there is a categorical exception allowing the prosecutor to claim exigent circumstances." In addition, he pointed out that the delay was not very long, was the result of human error, that the prosecutor could have kept trying or tried other methods to get in touch with the judge, and there should have been a backup system in place.
By contrast, the state argued that there were exigent circumstances in this case which included "the dissipation of alcohol and the inability to obtain a warrant." The state countered that this didn't create any categorical exception, that a blood draw was only done after the prosecutor couldn't reach the judge, that it had met its Fourth Amendment requirements, and that waiting any longer would have made the test ineffective.
The Idaho Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts, that the totality of the circumstances in Chernobieff's case justified a blood draw without a warrant and affirmed the lower court's ruling. The court did note that it was troubling that there wasn't a judge available as "[t]he State has an obligation to provide a functional and reliable system for obtaining warrants" whatever the time of day. The court stated that if a magistrate can't be reached then "the State has the burden of showing why that is the case and that good cause exists for the unavailability." The court noted that while the state had moved to admit evidence as to why the magistrate was not available, but that the defense had objected and the "evidence was stricken from the record." The court stated that "[w]ith no such evidence in the record, [it] presumes that the trial court ruled correctly."
If you or a loved one has been charged with driving under the influence in Forsyth County or another location in Georgia, please do not hesitate to contact Forsyth County DUI Attorney Richard Lawson today.