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People v. Ackerman

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

April 20, 2015

the People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
Travis Brandt Ackerman, Defendant-Appellee

Interlocutory Appeal from the District Court. Larimer County District Court Case No. 14CR44. Honorable Stephen J. Schapanski, Judge.

SYLLABUS

In this interlocutory appeal, the People seek review of the trial court's order suppressing the results of a blood draw taken from the defendant. The trial court found that a warrant was required before the police could order a blood draw and that the police lacked exigent circumstances that would justify the involuntary, warrantless blood draw under the Fourth Amendment. The People appealed on the sole issue of whether the facts of this case constituted exigent circumstances. The supreme court holds that exigent circumstances existed where the police were still investigating the scene of the crime and were not finished preparing the affidavit for a warrant when they learned that hospital personnel were taking the unconscious and injured defendant for medical procedures that could alter his blood-alcohol content. Under the totality of the circumstances, these exigent circumstances made it impractical for the police to obtain a search warrant and justified the blood draw. Accordingly, the supreme court reverses the trial court's suppression order and remands the matter to the trial court.

For Plaintiff-Appellant: Clifford E. Riedel, District Attorney, Eighth Judicial District, David P. Vandenberg, Deputy District Attorney, Lindsay Reilly, Deputy District Attorney, Dawn Downs, Deputy District Attorney, Fort Collins, Colorado.

For Defendant-Appellee: Eric G. Fischer, P.C., Eric G. Fischer, Fort Collins, Colorado.

OPINION

Page 62

BOATRIGHT, JUSTICE.

In this interlocutory appeal pursuant to C.A.R. 4.1, the People seek review of the trial court's order suppressing the results of a

Page 63

blood draw taken from the Defendant-Appellee, Travis Brandt Ackerman. At the suppression hearing, the trial court found that a warrant was required before the police could order a blood draw and that the police lacked exigent circumstances that would justify the involuntary, warrantless blood draw under the Fourth Amendment. The People appealed on the sole issue of whether the facts of this case constituted exigent circumstances. We hold that exigent circumstances existed where the police were still investigating the scene of the crime and were not finished preparing the affidavit for a warrant when they learned that hospital personnel were taking the unconscious and injured defendant for medical procedures that could alter his blood-alcohol content. Under the totality of the circumstances, these exigent circumstances made it impractical for the police to obtain a search warrant and justified the blood draw. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's suppression order and remand the case to that court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Facts and Procedural History

At around 1 a.m. on November 18, 2013, an off-duty Colorado State University police officer who lived in the Dry Creek neighborhood of Fort Collins called the police to report a noise complaint. He told the police that a man and a woman were riding around on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) and that alcohol was involved. He said that the man was driving the ATV. Officer Braun arrived on the scene and attempted to make contact with the ATV. Upon noticing the officer, the driver of the ATV sped off in another direction. The vehicle hit a roundabout, rolled, and ejected the driver and passenger. Both the man, who was identified as Ackerman, and the woman sustained serious injuries. Ackerman was transported to the Medical Center of the Rockies, while the woman went to Poudre Valley Hospital.

Officer Tower, who is the supervisor of the traffic unit and coordinates the Collision Reconstruction and Scene Handling (CRASH) team, was notified about the accident around 1:30 a.m. He asked Sergeant Clow, who was already at the scene, for his assessment and learned that Ackerman and the woman were seriously injured and transported to different hospitals. Officer Tower then directed an officer to go to each hospital. Officer Nace went to Poudre Valley Hospital, where the woman was pronounced dead on arrival. Officer Beaumont traveled to the Medical Center of the Rockies to " monitor [Ackerman's] situation."

Because the accident resulted in serious bodily injury and death, and included the driver eluding an officer, Officer Tower enacted " critical-incident protocol." The protocol dictated that the police perform both criminal and internal investigations. The internal investigation required performing interviews to ensure no police wrongdoing.

Officer Tower arrived on the scene around 2:20 a.m. and received a " walk-through" from Sergeant Clow. He testified that he then explained the situation to Officer Jurkofsky, who arrived soon after, and requested that Officer Jurkofsky gather information and begin writing an affidavit for a warrant to order blood drawn from Ackerman. While Officer Jurkofsky gathered information, Officer Beaumont called from the hospital and informed the investigators at the scene that Ackerman was unconscious and was in preparation for a computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan and " possibly surgery." After discussing the status of the investigation and the possibility of obtaining a warrant, Officer Tower determined that he could not get a warrant before Ackerman became unavailable. As a result, he ordered Officer Beaumont to obtain a blood draw, which hospital personnel performed around 3:30 a.m.

After the first blood draw, Officer Jurkofsky continued to gather information to complete the affidavit for the warrant, which the police submitted to a magistrate via an electronic, expedited warrant system. A magistrate signed the warrant at 4:37 a.m., which authorized two additional blood draws to be carried out so that the three total blood draws were each an hour apart. Ackerman, though, was in surgery at the ...


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