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Monday, May 04, 2015

State v. Adkins

State v.  Adkins  __ NJ __ (A-91-13)

  Decided May 4, 2015

LaVECCHIA, J., writing for a unanimous Court.

In this appeal, the Court considers the application of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Missouri v. McNeely, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S. Ct. 1552, 185 L. Ed. 2d 696 (2013), to a case involving a blood draw, for purposes of determining blood alcohol content (BAC), that took place before the McNeely decision was issued.

In the early morning hours of December 16, 2010, defendant, Timothy Adkins, was involved in a single-car accident that resulted in injuries to his two passengers. Based on his performance on a series of field sobriety tests conducted at the scene of the accident, defendant was arrested on suspicion of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) at approximately 2:27 a.m. Defendant was transported to the West Deptford Police Department and was advised of his Miranda rights; he invoked his right to counsel. Although Alcotest equipment was present, no breathalyzer test was administered at headquarters. Police conveyed defendant to the hospital, and the police obtained defendant’s BAC test results from a sample, drawn by hospital personnel at police direction, without the police first having secured a warrant or defendant’s prior written consent. Defendant was issued summonses for DWI, careless driving, and possession of an open container in a motor vehicle. Subsequently, a grand jury also charged him with fourth-degree assault by auto for recklessly operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and causing bodily injury.

McNeely, which held that the natural metabolism of alcohol in an individual’s bloodstream does not constitute a per se exigency under a Fourth Amendment search and seizure analysis. 133 S. Ct. at 1568. In light of McNeely, on April 22, 2013, defendant filed a pre-trial motion to suppress the blood test results. Following a hearing at which only defendant testified, the court granted defendant’s motion, applying McNeely and finding that the police did not demonstrate exigent circumstances before securing a sample of defendant’s blood without a warrant.

The State appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed. 433 N.J. Super. 479 (App. Div. 2013). The panel explained that, prior to McNeely, New Jersey courts, including the Supreme Court, had cited the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757 (1966), as support for the warrantless taking of blood samples from suspected intoxicated drivers, so long as the search was supported by probable cause and the sample was obtained in a medically reasonable manner. The panel thus reasoned that McNeely had worked a dramatic shift in the State’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence and created a new rule of criminal procedure. The panel acknowledged that McNeely ordinarily would be applied retroactively to all cases pending on direct review, but noted that federal law generally does not apply the exclusionary rule when police conduct a search in good faith reliance on previously binding precedent, and concluded that the exclusionary rule should not be applied here.

The Court granted defendant’s petition for certification. 217 N.J. 588 (2014).

HELD: McNeely’s pronouncement on the Fourth Amendment’s requirements must apply retroactively to cases that were in the pipeline when McNeely was issued. Accordingly, the Appellate Division’s judgment is reversed. The matter is remanded to allow the State and defendant the opportunity to re-present their respective positions on exigency in a hearing on defendant’s motion to suppress the admissibility of the blood test results. In that hearing, potential dissipation of the evidence may be given substantial weight as a factor to be considered in the totality of the circumstances. The reviewing court must focus on the objective exigency of the circumstances faced by the officers.

1. In the context of the exigent-circumstances exception, the United States Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of a warrantless blood draw from a suspected drunk driver in its 1966 decision in Schmerber, 384 U.S. 757. In finding the warrantless blood draw constitutionally permissible, the Court concluded that although a warrant is typically required for the taking of blood, the officer might have reasonably believed that he was confronted with an emergency, in which the delay necessary to obtain a warrant threatened the destruction of evidence. The Court further added that defendant’s blood was drawn by a reasonable method and in a reasonable manner. Id. at 770-71.

2. Following Schmerber, courts were not in agreement on whether the decision created a rule that the dissipation of alcohol constituted a per se exigency justifying a warrantless search. To resolve the split in authority, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in McNeely, where the State of Missouri argued that “the fact that alcohol is naturally metabolized by the human body creates an exigent circumstance in every case.” 133 S. Ct. at 1567. The Supreme Court explained that Schmerber never created a per se rule but, instead, had incorporated a totality-of-the-circumstances test. Id. at 1558-60. Thus, in McNeely, the Court clarified that the dissipation of alcohol from a person’s bloodstream is not the beginning and end of the analysis for exigency in all warrantless blood draws involving suspected drunk drivers. Rather, courts must evaluate the totality of the circumstances in assessing exigency, one factor of which is the human body’s natural dissipation of alcohol.

3. The question before the Court is McNeely’s application to the warrantless drawing of defendant’s blood, which occurred prior to McNeely’s issuance. In State v. Wessells, 209 N.J. 395 (2012), the Court noted that “federal retroactivity turns on whether a new rule of law has been announced, coupled with an analysis of the status of the particular matter, that is, whether it is not yet final, is pending on direct appeal, or is being collaterally reviewed.” Id. at 411. The Court recognized that if a new rule has been established “for the conduct of criminal prosecutions” it will “be applied retroactively to all cases, state or federal, pending on direct review or not yet final, with no exception for cases in which the new rule constitutes a ‘clear break’ with the past.” Id. at 412 (quoting Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U.S. 314, 328 (1987)). Accordingly, in Wessells, the Court applied a new rule of law that had been established in a United States Supreme Court decision to a case pending review in New Jersey at the time the decision was handed down. As the Appellate Division found, and defendant and the State acknowledge, this case calls for a similar result. McNeely represents new law settling an area of criminal practice, thus, under federal retroactivity law, the decision deserves pipeline retroactive application. The United States Supreme Court has pronounced the standard to be applied under the Fourth Amendment to warrantless searches involving blood draws of suspected DWI drivers and, under Supremacy Clause principles, this Court is bound to follow it as the minimal amount of constitutional protection to be provided. Therefore, in accord with Wessells, McNeely applies retroactively to cases that were in the pipeline when it was decided.

4. The Court next considers whether the exclusionary rule should have any applicability in suppressing defendant’s blood test results when the police merely followed an asserted, commonly held understanding of Schmerber’s requirements in this State. Our State declined to recognize the exception to the exclusionary rule that was first established in United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984), and has consistently rejected a good faith exception to the exclusionary rule. This matter deals specifically with police conduct in reliance on case law in New Jersey that led law enforcement to the reasonable conclusion that the natural dissipation of alcohol from the human body created exigency sufficient to dispense with the need to seek a warrant. Although the Court’s decisions never expressly pronounced an understanding of Schmerber that per se permitted warrantless blood draws in all cases on the basis of alcohol dissipation alone, case law contains language that provides a basis for such a belief. The United States Supreme Court has now clarified the appropriate test to be applied to warrantless blood draws, and this Court adheres to that test without any superimposed exception.

5. In these pipeline cases, law enforcement should be permitted on remand to present their basis for believing that exigency was present in the facts surrounding the evidence’s potential dissipation and police response under the circumstances to the events involved in the arrest. The exigency in these circumstances should be assessed in a manner that permits the court to ascribe substantial weight to the perceived dissipation that an officer reasonably faced. Reasonableness of officers must be assessed in light of the existence of the McNeely opinion. But, in reexamining pipeline cases when police may have believed that they did not have to evaluate whether a warrant could be obtained, based on prior guidance from the Court that did not dwell on such an obligation, reviewing courts should focus on the objective exigency of the circumstances that the officer faced in the situation.

The judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED and the matter is REMANDED to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.