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State v. Morales

Supreme Court of North Dakota

September 17, 2015

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
Edward Morales, Defendant and Appellant

Appeal from the District Court of Williams County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable Paul W. Jacobson, Judge.

Nathan K. Madden, Assistant State's Attorney, Williston, N.D., for plaintiff and appellee.

Lee M. Grossman, Valley City, N.D., for defendant and appellant.

Ken R. Sorenson, Assistant Attorney General, Bismarck, N.D., for amicus curiae Attorneys for North Dakota Attorney General.

Dale V. Sandstrom, Carol Ronning Kapsner, Lisa Fair McEvers, Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J. Opinion of the Court by Sandstrom, Justice. Daniel J. Crothers, concurs in the result.


Page 418

Dale V. Sandstrom, Justice.

[¶1] Edward Morales appeals from a judgment entered upon a conditional guilty plea to causing death while operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress the results of a warrantless blood-alcohol test. Morales argues there was not sufficient evidence to support the district court's decision that

Page 419

exigent circumstances permitted the warrantless blood-alcohol test and N.D.C.C. § § 39-20-01 and 39-20-03 are unconstitutional. We conclude the warrantless blood-alcohol test was authorized under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement, and we affirm the judgment.


[¶2] At about 10:28 p.m., on November 28, 2013, law enforcement officers and emergency medical personnel were dispatched to a single-car accident in a RV trailer park about four miles north of Williston. According to Williston Police Officer Jacob Hendricks, because the accident occurred outside the Williston city limits on Thanksgiving, he responded to " stand by at the crash scene and offer aid until the sheriff's office could arrive." He testified he was the first officer on the scene, and he observed a passenger in a vehicle that had hit a parked gooseneck trailer. The passenger was not responsive and was pronounced dead at the scene. According to Officer Hendricks, the sheriff's office was ordinarily responsible for investigating accidents outside the Williston city limits, but the highway patrol investigates accidents involving injuries and fatalities. Morales was identified as the driver of the vehicle. Officer Hendricks testified he detected the odor of alcohol emanating from Morales but he did not talk to him because he was receiving emergency medical care and was strapped to a back board and transported by ambulance to a Williston hospital.

[¶3] North Dakota Highway Patrol Officer Scott Stoczynski arrived at the accident scene at about 10:34 p.m., after Morales had been transported to the hospital. According to Officer Stoczynski, Williston Police Officer Sam Aide informed him that Morales had been walking around the vehicle after the accident, that Morales had received emergency medical care and had been transported to the hospital, and that Officer Hendricks said Morales smelled of alcohol. Officer Stoczynski testified only two highway patrol officers were working in the Williston area because of the Thanksgiving holiday and he remained at the scene to investigate the accident. Officer Hendricks returned to his patrol duties, but was subsequently dispatched to the Williston hospital at the request of Officer Stoczynski to watch Morales. At the hospital, Officer Hendricks observed Morales was unconscious, but again detected he smelled of alcohol. Meanwhile, Officer Stoczynski remained at the accident scene and investigated the crash, measuring markings on the driving surface, taking pictures, locating debris, and inspecting and photographing vehicles. Officer Stoczynski testified highway patrol officers specialize in accident reconstruction and his investigation ultimately revealed Morales' vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed and failed to negotiate a turn and avoid or brake for a parked gooseneck trailer that was loaded with lumber.

[¶4] Officer Stoczynski testified it took him about an hour and a half to complete the on-scene accident investigation, and he then proceeded to the hospital, arriving at about 12:15 a.m. According to Officer Stoczynski, when he arrived at the hospital Morales had been intubated and was unconscious and not responsive. Officer Stoczynski testified he smelled the odor of alcohol coming from Morales and read him Miranda warnings and an implied consent advisory. He testified he arrested Morales and requested a warrantless blood draw from him, which was performed by hospital personnel at about 12:30 a.m.

[¶5] The warrantless blood draw revealed a blood-alcohol concentration above the legal limit, and the ...

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