Being physically restrained by an officer and submitting to officer’s authority constitutes an arrest for purposes of determining whether or not a blood alcohol test was legally conducted.
That’s all an appellate court needed to reverse and remand a lower court’s decision to rescind a driver’s suspension in a DWI case involving an accident.
This case began roughly at 2 a.m. on November 12, 2016. Respondent (who is the Driver and Defendant) was driving home on Interstate 44 after meeting friends at a local restaurant. Evidence at trial later showed that she was driving with a blood alcohol content of .175%. Respondent struck another vehicle from behind, causing both drivers to lose control. Respondent’s car hit an abandoned vehicle parked on the shoulder, flipped, landed on its roof, and slid across four lanes of traffic before coming to rest in the middle of the highway. The Officer at the scene requested paramedics.
Before the paramedics arrived, Officer spoke with Respondent, who informed him that she was the driver of the overturned vehicle. While speaking with Respondent, Officer noticed her breath smelled like alcohol, she had watery, blood-shot eyes, her speech was slurred, and she seemed confused and disoriented. Officer asked if she had been drinking. Respondent eventually stated she had had some drinks with friends, and “what’s that have to do with anything [?] (sic) [Y]ou need to worry about getting all of my clothes off the road.” Officer asked Respondent to walk to the curb and sit down. As she tried to sit on the curb, she lost her balance and almost fell over. Eventually, Officer had to handcuff Respondent for her own safety, because she kept attempting to re-enter the highway to collect items that were thrown from her car in the accident.
Officer testified that at this time Respondent was in his custody, but not under arrest. Officer did not conduct any field sobriety tests because of Respondent’s injuries. When the paramedics arrived Officer removed the handcuffs so they could treat Respondent.
Another officer met Respondent at the hospital, where she was in a hospital bed with her neck stabilized. Officer read Respondent the Implied Consent Warning contained in the Missouri Department of Revenue Alcohol Influence Report (“Alcohol Influence Report”). This warning states “You are under arrest and I have reasonable grounds to believe you were driving a motor vehicle while you were in an intoxicated . . . condition…” etc.
Respondent consented to the blood draw. Officer again Mirandized Respondent, and she stated that she understood her rights.
Trial court ruled in favor of the Respondent/Defendant, and reversed the decision to suspend her driver’s license for one year. The Appellate court then reversed and remanded the lower court’s decision rescinding the suspension.
Appellate Court found two occasions where an arrest was made under these facts.
1) The first point the Defendant/Respondent argued was that she was not arrested. Now the trial court had reasoned that the State failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Respondent had been arrested at the time she submitted to the blood alcohol test.
The Appellate Court, however, disagreed saying that the Respondent was injured in a serious crash, was told she was under arrest while hospitalized, agreed to provide a blood sample requested under Missouri’s Implied Consent Law, and did not attempt to terminate the encounter with law enforcement. Thus, for those reasons, the Respondent was arrested by actual physical restraint, and by her submission to the Officer’s authority.
Typically, if a Defendant is under arrest, an officer will conduct field sobriety tests at the scene of the accident. But because of Respondent’s injuries, he chose not to do so. And when the Officer arrived at the hospital, Respondent was in a hospital bed with a brace around her neck. The Officer Mirandized Respondent and read her the Implied Consent Warning informing her that she was under arrest. Further, Officer testified that he decided not to handcuff Respondent only because of her injuries, but that he considered her under arrest at that time.
2) As to the second point, the State argued that the Respondent submitted to authority when she complied with the officer’s request to submit to the blood alcohol test.
Both the trial court and Respondent reasoned that because the test was completely voluntary, and Respondent could refuse to take it, there was no show of authority by the Officer to which Respondent could submit.
The Appellate Court, however, concluded that this argument ignores the fact that Officer told Respondent her license would be immediately revoked if she refused to take the blood alcohol test, after telling her she was under arrest. That is a show of authority, and Respondent submitted to that show of authority when she agreed to take the blood alcohol test and did not leave the premises.
The Appellate Court said that even if just one of the two issues could be proven, that she was physically restrained or just submitted to the officer’s authority, only one would be enough to have legally conducted a blood alcohol test.
The opinion was written by Judge Roy L. Richter, with Judges Robert M. Clayton III, Presiding Judge, and Robert G. Dowd, Jr., concurring.
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