Bad Blood Draw Kills DUI-Murder Conviction

     HOUSTON (CN) — A Texas appeals court this week reversed a DUI-murder conviction because a state trooper took the driver’s blood without a warrant.
     Sean Michael McGuire, 42, had some drinks while spending five hours at a benefit on Aug. 2, 2010, according to the case record.
     Driving home on a rural road, McGuire rear-ended a motorcycle. The vehicles tangled and the bike slipped under McGuire’s pickup.
     McGuire drove from one intersection to another, sparks flying from the vehicles, before the bike broke free and slid to a stop.
     “At some point during the process, the motorcycle driver, David Stidman, was knocked off his motorcycle. Stidman died from his injuries at the scene,” Texas First Court of Appeals Justice Harvey Brown wrote in the May 10 ruling.
     Stidman, 23, was a decorated Marine corporal who had survived two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, the Houston Chronicle reported.
     McGuire told police and witnesses that he never saw the motorcycle.
     “He heard a noise on impact, thought he may have hit ‘something or someone,'” the ruling states. He turned around, and seeing nothing on the shoulder, went to a gas station “and called his mother and two police acquaintances, who called law enforcement to begin its investigation.”
     Two other drivers saw Stidman’s body near the gas station and one of them called 911.
     McGuire told police repeatedly that he did not see the motorcycle, which was black with two small taillights. An expert testified that he was denied access to test if the lights were working.
     McGuire refused a breath test so Texas state trooper Alton Tomlin took him to a hospital. McGuire refused to give a blood sample and Tomlin forced him to.
     “Tomlin testified that he took ‘zero steps’ to obtain a warrant for a blood draw. He testified that, because someone had died in the accident and McGuire appeared intoxicated, McGuire was subject to a ‘mandatory blood draw’ under Texas law,” the 60-page opinion states.
     Hospital staff drew the blood at 2:03 a.m., 90 minutes after the accident. The alcohol content measured 0.16, two times the legal limit.
     A Fort Bend County jury in March 2014 convicted McGuire of murder and failure to stop and render aid, and sentenced him to 18 years.
     McGuire is serving his time at a prison in Fort Stockton, seven hours west of his Rosenberg home.
     His penalty is 13 years lighter with the appellate court ruling that the trial court erred by not granting his motion to suppress the blood sample. A three-judge panel reversed the murder conviction and remanded it to the trial court.
     Fort Bend County Assistant District Attorney John Harrity didn’t respond to a phone message asking if his office will pursue the murder charge.
     McGuire’s attorney Michael Elliott said the ruling had spoiled the prosecution’s murder case.
     “I don’t know what evidence they have left now,” he said. “We’re very excited and happy about it. This is what we’ve been screaming from the rooftops for four years: that they acted illegally and outside the bounds of the law and he should have never been charged with murder to begin with.”
     Writing for the three-judge panel, Brown noted that of the seven police officers who responded, none called a Fort Bend County assistant district attorney, who are on call 24/7, standard procedure to get the ball rolling on a warrant. There were also other options, Brown wrote.
     “Officers, or the assistant district attorneys, could fax transmissions to any of ‘about 20’ Fort Bend County judges at their homes to process a warrant or the officers could take a warrant request to the judges personally. Nonetheless, no effort was made to obtain a warrant,” the ruling states.
     Texas law allows an exception to forcibly draw blood if there’s evidence the driver is intoxicated, which is what Trooper Tomlin and prosecutors cited as justification for taking McGuire’s.
     But Brown wrote that the case record is not clear on whether McGuire appeared to be drunk that night: “Some of the officers on the scene testified that McGuire appeared intoxicated, but others testified that he did not.”
     Prosecutors also claimed that McGuire admitted at the scene that he was intoxicated.
     Brown, however, cited audio from a trooper’s dash cam that recorded McGuire saying: “How is that my fault if the dude jumps out like that and he’s not running his lights? … [inaudible] … Me being intoxicated was not the issue. You know. It really wasn’t. It’s unbelievable.” (Brackets in ruling.)
     Brown dissected the heart of that statement and found the state’s confession theory flawed.
     “A reasonable jury could interpret McGuire’s statement to mean that whether or not he was intoxicated was not the issue,” Brown wrote.
     The inconclusive evidence made the warrantless blood draw a Fourth Amendment violation, the panel ruled, reversing the conviction.
     The court upheld McGuire’s failure to stop and render aid conviction so he’s still looking at 5 years in prison. His attorney said he does not know when McGuire will be up for parole.

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