Blood Test of Drunken Driver Upheld in NJ

     TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – Recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent does not help a drunken-driving suspect whose blood police tested without a warrant after a car crash, a New Jersey appeals court ruled.
     Donna Jones caused the accident in question at a busy intersection when she drove into a vehicle stopped at a traffic light, propelling it into a third car.
     It took almost a half hour to pry Jones from the wreckage. Roughly an hour after the 11 officers arrived at the scene, police asked a nurse to draw Jones’ blood.
     The sample came back with a blood-alcohol content level of 0.345, more than four times the state’s legal limit.
     Jones, who had been hospitalized, was then arrested for drunken driving.
     Her bid to suppress those test results has bounced around several courts struggling to apply the findings of Missouri v. McNeely, a 2013 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
     In that 5-3 majority opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said bodily metabolization of alcohol does not represent an exigent circumstance that justifies drawing a suspected drunken driver’s blood without a warrant.
     “In those drunk-driving investigations where police officers can reasonably obtain a warrant before a blood sample can be drawn without significantly undermining the efficacy of the search, the Fourth Amendment mandates that they do so,” she wrote. Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the majority in part.
     The Camden County Superior Court sided with Jones but the Appellate Division reversed last year finding that McNeely did not warrant suppression of the evidence.
     That panel had to take another look at the Jones case, however, after the state Supreme Court called for retroactive application of McNeely in another drunken-driving case.
     Tuesday’s opinion still sides with the state, finding that the circumstances of the car accident Jones caused “presented an ‘objective exigency.'”
     “This was not a routine motor vehicle stop,” Judge Marianne Espinosa wrote for a three-person panel. “The exigency of the circumstances did not depend solely upon the fact that alcohol dissipates in the blood.”
     Describing the chaos of the scene, Espinosa noted that the investigation at the scene took several hours, and Jones did not even regain consciousness until she was at the hospital.
     In addition to car wreckage, police were concerned that a nearby building that Jones’ car had hit would collapse.
     “Viewing the circumstances here objectively, we are satisfied the officer ‘might reasonably have believed that he was confronted with an emergency, in which the delay necessary to obtain a warrant, under the circumstances, threatened ‘the destruction of evidence,'” Espinosa wrote.
     Applying McNeely retroactively has no bearing on this analysis, the court found.

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