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City of West Fargo v. Williams

Supreme Court of North Dakota

June 27, 2019

City of West Fargo, Plaintiff and Appellant
v.
Tyler Clark Williams, Defendant and Appellee

          Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Thomas R. Olson, Judge.

          Stephen R. Hanson II, West Fargo, ND, for plaintiff and appellant.

          Luke T. Heck (argued) and Drew J. Hushka (on brief), Fargo, ND, for defendant and appellee.

          OPINION

          McEvers, Justice.

         [¶1] The City of West Fargo appeals from a district court order suppressing evidence of Tyler Clark Williams' refusal to submit to a chemical test, arguing N.D.C.C. § 39-20-02 contemplates an arrestee only has a statutory right to an independent test if he has already submitted to the chemical test requested by law enforcement. We reverse the district court order and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I

         [¶2] On May 7, 2018, a law enforcement officer conducted a traffic stop on Williams. Upon speaking with Williams, who admitted he had been drinking, the officer conducted various field sobriety tests. After Williams completed the field sobriety tests, the officer read Williams the implied consent advisory and asked him to submit to an on-site screening test. Williams stated he would rather take a blood test. The officer responded a blood test was not available and that the only available test was the breath screening test. The officer repeated the implied consent advisory and then Williams agreed to take the breath screening test. Immediately prior to the administration of the screening test, Williams again asked why he could not have a blood test and the officer responded he did not have a blood kit in his car. The breath test was administered, and a result above the legal limit caused the officer to arrest Williams for driving under the influence. After he was arrested, Williams asked why he was not allowed to refuse the breath screening test and the officer replied Williams was allowed to refuse the test but the officer did not have the tools to complete a blood test in his car. The officer stated that when "we're all said and done," Williams could go get a blood test at a hospital.

         [¶3] Once they arrived at the jail, the officer read Williams the implied consent advisory and requested a chemical breath test, which Williams refused. After Williams' refusal, the officer again explained Williams could get a blood test at a hospital at his own expense. Williams was charged under West Fargo City Ordinance 13-0203 with driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor-refusal.

         [¶4] Prior to trial, Williams moved to suppress evidence of his refusal, arguing he was not afforded a reasonable opportunity to obtain an independent blood test. At the motion hearing, the arresting officer testified and a video of the traffic stop and arrest was introduced as an exhibit. The district court granted the motion to suppress, finding under the totality of the circumstances Williams was not given a reasonable opportunity to secure an independent test. The court also found that although Williams refused the chemical test, he was an individual tested under N.D.C.C. § 39-20-02, because he submitted to the on-site screening test.

         II

         [¶5] This Court reviews a district court's order on a motion to suppress as follows:

This Court defers to the district court's findings of fact and resolves conflicts in testimony in favor of affirmance. This Court will affirm a district court decision regarding a motion to suppress if there is sufficient competent evidence fairly capable of supporting the district court's findings, and the decision is not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Questions of law are fully reviewable on appeal, and whether a finding of fact meets a legal standard is a question of law.

State v. Hansford, 2019 ND 52, ¶ 12, 923 N.W.2d 113 (citation omitted). "Statutory interpretation is a question of law." S & B Dickinson Apartments I, LLC v. Stark Cty.Bd. of Comm'rs, 2018 ND ...


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