from the District Court of Barnes County, Southeast Judicial
District, the Honorable Troy J. LeFevre, Judge.
A. Schoenack, Special Assistant State's Attorney, Valley
City, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.
Nicholas D. Thornton (argued) and James A. Teigland (on
brief), Fargo, ND, for defendant and appellant.
VANDEWALLE, CHIEF JUSTICE.
1] Steven Wayne Sauter appealed from a judgment entered upon
a conditional guilty plea to criminal vehicular homicide,
reserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion to
suppress the results of a warrantless blood-alcohol test.
Sauter argues there was not sufficient evidence to support
the district court's decision that exigent circumstances
permitted the warrantless blood-alcohol test. We conclude the
warrantless blood-alcohol test was authorized under the
exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement.
We affirm the judgment.
2] On August 31, 2016, around 10:55 p.m., a fatal motor
vehicle crash occurred in Barnes County, North Dakota.
Highway Patrol Officer Paul Sova arrived at the scene at
approximately 11:19 p.m. Officer Sova learned the driver of
one of the vehicles was deceased. He also learned that the
driver of the other vehicle, Sauter, had suffered
life-threatening injuries, was in and out of consciousness,
and that a "life-flight" was on its way to the
scene. Officer Sova was unable to personally observe Sauter
because he was receiving medical attention in the ambulance.
3] Officer Sova marked the accident scene for forensic
analysis, took pictures, interviewed witnesses, and made
various phone calls. Officer Sova contacted his supervisor,
Sgt. Matthew Denault, at midnight. Officer Sova informed Sgt.
Denault that Sauter was going to be life-flighted to Fargo.
Officer Sova requested Sgt. Denault go to the hospital in
Fargo to continue the investigation. Officer Sova went to
notify the family of the death.
4] When Sgt. Denault arrived at Sanford Hospital, Sauter was
not in his room. Based on the information provided by Officer
Sova, Sgt. Denault knew alcohol may be a factor, but wanted
to further investigate the matter before he applied for a
search warrant to obtain a blood test. Sauter was returned to
his room approximately 20 minutes after Sgt. Denault arrived.
Sauter was intubated, unconscious, and non-responsive. Sgt.
Denault detected an odor of alcohol coming from Sauter and
decided to apply for a search warrant to obtain a blood test.
5] Sgt. Denault called the "on-call" Cass County
State's Attorney, Cherie Clark, at 1:39 a.m. Clark
advised that Sgt. Denault call the jail to find out which
judge was "on-call." Sgt. Denault then called the
jail and was told to call the Cass County State's
Attorney. Instead, Sgt. Denault called dispatch, but was
informed they did not have access to the judge's phone
numbers. He was then transferred to the Fargo Police
Department. Sgt. Shane Aberle told him that the
"on-call" investigator could assist him. Sgt.
Denault was waiting for the investigator to call him back
when he learned Sauter was being prepped for surgery. Due to
the extent of Sauter's injuries, Sgt. Denault was
concerned Sauter could be in surgery for a lengthy period of
time and that the alcohol, if any, in his system would
dissipate. Sgt. Denault asked a nurse to do a blood draw and
placed Sauter under arrest for driving under the influence at
2:51 a.m. The blood draw was done at 2:59 a.m.
6] Sauter was charged with a class A felony criminal
vehicular homicide. Sauter moved to suppress evidence based
on the warrantless search and seizure of his blood. The
district court denied the motion because the search was
constitutional based upon exigent circumstances.
7] The standard of review of motions to suppress evidence is
We give deference to the district court's findings of
fact when reviewing a motion to suppress evidence. The
district court is in a superior position to assess the
credibility of witnesses and weigh the evidence, and
conflicts are resolved in favor of affirmance. A district
court's findings of fact on a motion to suppress will not
be reversed if there is sufficient competent evidence fairly
capable of supporting the court's findings, and the
decision is not contrary to the manifest weight of the
evidence. Matters of law are fully reviewable by this Court
State v. Morales, 2015 ND 230, ¶ 7, 869 N.W.2d
8] "Unreasonable searches and seizures are prohibited by
the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, made
applicable to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment, and
by Article I, Section 8, of the North Dakota
Constitution." Morales, 2015 ND 230, ¶ 8,
869 N.W.2d 417. "The administration of a blood test to
determine blood-alcohol concentration is a search under those
constitutional provisions." Id.
"Warrantless searches are unreasonable unless they fall
within one of the recognized exceptions to the warrant
9] "In suppression cases, the defendant has the initial
burden of establishing a prima facie case that the evidence
was illegally seized." Id. (citing State v.
Glaesman, 545 N.W.2d 178, 182 n.1 (N.D. 1996)).
"Thereafter, the burden shifts to the State to prove a
warrantless search falls within a recognized exception to the
warrant requirement." Morales, 2015 ND 230,
¶ 8, 869 N.W.2d 417. "Absent an exception to the
warrant requirement, the exclusionary rule requires
suppression of evidence obtained ...