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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Court of Appeals: warrantless DWI blood draws permissible

Posted by on Wed, Jul 16, 2014 at 7:55 AM

The North Carolina Court of Appeals yesterday released an opinion affirming the legality of warrantless DWI blood draws in emergency situations.

Stephen Granger of Wilmington had been convicted of a DWI charge after a New Hanover County superior court judge denied his motion to suppress the results taken from a warrantless blood draw against his consent. Granger had argued that his fourth amendment search-and-seizure rights were violated because, he alleged, the charging officer had time to get a warrant on the night in question, and chose not to.

One early morning in May 2012, Granger rear-ended a truck. When Wilmington Police Officer Eric Lippert arrived to the accident scene, he noticed that Granger appeared in pain and smelled like alcohol. 

After Granger was transported to the hospital, he told Officer Lippert he'd been drinking. Two breath test came up positive. At 3:51 a.m., Lippert asked a nurse to draw Granger's blood against his consent. The blood test registered at .15, which is above the legal limit.

Lippert later said he did not seek a warrant because the county jail was 20 minutes away, and he was concerned about the dissipation of alcohol from Granger's blood stream.

Following his conviction, Granger was sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended in lieu of 18 months probation.

In Missouri v. McNeely, a precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court case decided last year, the justices determined that warrantless DWI blood draws are permissible in emergency situations, justified during the course of delays from the warrant application process because of to the natural dissipation of alcohol in the blood. 

For that reason, the North Carolina appellate judges upheld Granger's conviction.

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