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State v. Lemeunier-Fitzgerald

Supreme Court of Maine

July 3, 2018


          Argued: May 12, 2017

          Jamesa J. Drake, Esq. (orally), and Zachary L. Heiden, Esq., American Civil Liberties Union of Maine Foundation, Portland, and DarrickX. Banda, Esq., Law Offices of Ronald W. Bourget, Augusta, for appellant Lyanne Lemunier-Fitzgerald

          Maeghan Maloney, District Attorney, and Kate E. Marshall, Asst. Dist. Atty. (orally), Prosecutorial District IV, Augusta, for appellee State of Maine

          Tyler J. Smith, Esq., Libby O'Brien Kingsley & Champion, LLC, Kennebunk, for amicus curiae Maine Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys

          Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Donald W. Macomber, Asst. Atty. Gen., Department of the Attorney General, Augusta, for amicus curiae Department of the Attorney General


          SAUFLEY, C.J.

         [¶1] This appeal requires us to determine whether evidence obtained from a warrantless blood-alcohol test, taken upon probable cause to believe that a driver's ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired by intoxicants, falls within the consent exception to the warrant requirement if the suspect agrees to the blood draw following the standard explanation of the implied consent warnings. In this evolving area of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, we conclude that the operator consented to the blood test, and we affirm the denial of the motion to suppress.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] Lyanne LeMeunier-Fitzgerald appeals from a judgment of conviction entered by the trial court (Kennebec County, Mullen, J.) upon her conditional guilty plea to charges of operating under the influence (Class C), 29-A M.R.S. § 2411(1-A)(B)(2), (5)(C) (2017), and operating beyond a license condition or restriction (Class E), 29-AM.R.S. § 1251(1)(B) (2017), entered after the court (Marden, J.) denied her motion to suppress the results of a blood test for alcohol. She challenges the court's determination that she voluntarily consented to the blood test after she was warned by the arresting officer that there were potential consequences if she refused to consent.

         [¶3] The operative facts, most of which were found upon the parties' stipulation and none of which are disputed on appeal, are as follows. On December 21, 2015, an Augusta police officer suspected that LeMeunier-Fitzgerald was operating under the influence of an intoxicant after observing her in a supermarket parking lot. Her vehicle was partially pulled out of a parking space, her eyes were glassy, and she smelled of alcohol. When the officer approached and questioned her, she grabbed a bottle of pills and poured them into her mouth. The officer placed her in handcuffs and called for a rescue team. When the rescue team arrived, the handcuffs were removed and LeMeunier-Fitzgerald was taken to the hospital.

         [¶4] After hospital personnel had attended to LeMeunier-Fitzgerald and had placed her in a room, the officer met with her. The officer informed her that he suspected that she had been attempting to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants, and he read Maine's "implied consent" warnings to her verbatim from a form provided by the Secretary of State's Bureau of Motor Vehicles. See 29-A M.R.S. § 2521 (2017). Included was the warning, "If you are convicted of operating while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs, your failure to submit to a chemical test will be considered an aggravating factor at sentencing which in addition to other penalties, will subject you to a mandatory minimum period of incarceration." LeMeunier-Fitzgerald agreed to submit to the blood test, and a blood sample was taken from her without a warrant.

         [¶5] LeMeunier-Fitzgerald was charged by complaint, and she was later indicted, for operating under the influence (Class C), 29-A M.R.S. § 2411(1-A)(B)(2), and operating beyond a license condition or restriction (Class E), 29-A M.R.S. § 1251(1)(B). She moved to suppress the blood test results as having been procured without a warrant and without voluntary consent, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The court held a hearing on the motion to suppress on July 26, 2016. The parties stipulated that (1) the officer had probable cause to believe that LeMeunier-Fitzgerald was operating while under the influence of an intoxicant, (2) her blood was drawn without a search warrant, and (3) there were no exigent circumstances. The court then heard brief testimony from the officer who had taken LeMeunier-Fitzgerald into custody. For purposes of the motion, that testimony was not disputed by LeMeunier-Fitzgerald.

         [¶6] The court denied the motion to suppress, reasoning that, unlike the situation that the United States Supreme Court recently addressed in Birchfield v. North Dakota, LeMeunier-Fitzgerald did not submit to the blood testing "on pain of committing a criminal offense." 579 U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 2160, 2186 (2016). The court concluded that the heightened minimum penalties, including a mandatory minimum period of incarceration, that may be imposed on a person who refuses to submit to testing if convicted of OUI were not equivalent to an independent criminal offense for refusal as described in Birchfield. 579 U.S. at __, 136 S.Ct. at 2169-70, 2186.

         [¶7] LeMeunier-Fitzgerald entered a conditional guilty plea, preserving her right to appeal from the ruling on the motion to suppress, and the court [Mullen, /.) sentenced her to three years in prison, with all but forty-five days suspended, [2] and two years of probation for the OUI conviction and forty-five days in prison, to run concurrently, for the conviction of operating beyond a license condition or restriction. The court also imposed fines and surcharges amounting to $1, 405.

         [¶8] LeMeunier-Fitzgerald timely appealed. See 15 M.R.S.§2115 (2017); M.R. App. P. 2(b)(2)(A) (Tower 2016).[3] She argues that the blood test violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures because it was taken without a warrant and her consent to the test was rendered involuntary by the warning of an increased minimum sentence if she refused to consent and was then convicted.


         [¶9] We anchor our analysis in the language of the United States Constitution. "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." U.S. Const, amend. IV. There is no question that strictures of the Fourth Amendment apply to searches in the form of blood tests. See Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 767-72 (1966). The question is how those strictures apply here.

         [¶10] In recent years, courts across the country have been challenged to find an appropriate balance between a defendant's right to be free from "unreasonable" searches of their blood for its alcohol content and the State's interest in addressing the public safety crisis resulting from impaired drivers causing death and destruction on America's roads.[4] U.S. Const, amend. IV. We endeavor here to assure that the constitution's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures is given full force, with the required determination of reasonableness informed by a full consideration of urgent public safety considerations.[5] In this opinion, we (A) summarize the Fourth Amendment jurisprudence regarding searches undertaken for purposes of blood-alcohol testing; (B) review the statutory basis for providing warnings about the legal consequences of a refusal to submit to testing; and (C) consider the legal question of whether a driver who consents to a blood draw after receiving such warnings has voluntarily consented, recognizing, as the First Circuit has eloquently explained, that a defendant's consent that has been "pried loose by... a claim of authority is merely acquiescence." United States v. Vazquez, 724 F.3d 15, 23 (1st Cir. 2013). A. Alcohol Testing and the Fourth Amendment

         [¶11] We begin with the bedrock understanding that the withdrawal of a blood sample from the veins or arteries of a human being for blood-alcohol testing is a "search" falling within the protection of the Fourth Amendment. See Birchfield, 579 U.S. at __, 136 S.Ct. at 2173; Schmerber, 384 U.S. at 767; State v. Boyd, 2017 ME 36, ¶ 8, 156 A.3d 748; State v. Arndt, 2016 ME 31, ¶ 8, 133 A.3d 587. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches, and the procurement of a legitimate search warrant, with all that it entails, is designed to ensure the reasonableness of a search. See Skinner v. Ry. Labor Executives' Ass'n, 489 U.S. 602, 619, 622 (1989).

         [¶12] As is also clear, however, there are "a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions" to the warrant requirement. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967); see also Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U.S. 141, 148-49 (2013); Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103, 109 (2006). "When faced with special law enforcement needs, diminished expectations of privacy, minimal intrusions, or the like, the [Supreme] Court has found that certain general, or individual, circumstances may render a warrantless search or seizure reasonable." Illinois v. McArthur, 531 U.S. 326, 330 (2001); see, e.g., Pennsylvania v. Labron, 518 U.S. 938, 940 (1996) (per curiam) (holding that a warrantless search of an automobile is reasonable if the automobile is readily mobile and the search is supported by probable cause); Mich. Dep't of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444, 453-55 (1990) (holding that the use of a sobriety checkpoint was reasonable when it was instituted based on objective indicia of effectiveness).

          [¶13] In addressing the reasonableness of searches aimed at detecting impaired driving, the Supreme Court has held that a breath test measuring blood-alcohol content is a search that does not require a warrant, consent, or other exceptions, as long as there is probable cause to believe that the driver was operating, or attempting to operate, a vehicle while under the influence. See Birchfield, 579 U.S. at __, 136 S.Ct. at 2184-85. The Court has reasoned that a breath test is less intrusive than a blood test, and when balanced against the law enforcement needs of keeping impaired drivers off the roads, it is reasonable, even without a warrant, for a law enforcement officer to require a driver to submit to a breath test if probable cause exists. See id.

         [¶14] Because it is more intrusive, however, a warrantless blood draw cannot be justified as a search incident to an arrest for OUI. Id. at 2185. Thus, some other exception to the warrant requirement is necessary to establish the reasonableness of the blood draw to test for alcohol.

         [¶15] The parties have agreed that the consent exception is the only exception at issue on appeal.[6] The question before us concerns whether, given the need to prevent drivers from operating vehicles while under the influence of intoxicants, it is reasonable to draw a driver's blood without procuring a warrant when the driver has consented to a blood test after being read Maine's statutory warnings about the consequences of refusing to submit to testing.

         B. The Duty to Submit to Testing and Warnings of the Consequences of Refusing to Submit

         [¶16] Due to concerns about deaths and injuries resulting from drunk driving, States have adopted laws designed to ensure the testing of blood-alcohol levels through breath or blood tests, predominantly through statutes providing that drivers "imply" their consent to testing by operating vehicles on the roads. See Birchfield, 579 U.S. at __, 136 S.Ct. at 2166, 2168-69. The Maine Legislature enacted its "implied consent" law to take effect on October 1, 1969. P.L. 1969, ch. 439, § 1 (codified at 29 M.R.S.A. § 1312 (Supp. 1970)). That statute provided that any person operating or attempting to operate a motor vehicle in Maine who had been arrested for operating while intoxicated would "be deemed to have given consent to a chemical test of the blood alcohol level of his blood or urine." Id.

         [¶17] More than a decade later, in response to our decision interpreting the "implied consent" statute, State v. Plante, 417 A.2d 991 (Me. 1980), [7] the Legislature amended the statute, eliminating the presumption of consent upon operation of a vehicle and establishing a duty to submit to testing. See P.L. 1981, ch. 679, § 12 (effective April 15, 1982) (codified at 29 M.R.S.A. § 1312 (Supp. 1982)). The present statute, 29-A M.R.S. § 2521(1) (2017), which was in effect when LeMeunier-Fitzgerald's blood was drawn, provides, "If there is probable cause to believe a person has operated a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants, that person shall submit to and complete a test to determine an alcohol level and the presence of a drug or drug metabolite by analysis of blood, breath or urine." (Emphasis added.) The statute provides for the administration of a breath test "unless, in th[e] officer's determination, a breath test is unreasonable," in which case "another chemical test must be administered in place of a breath test." Id. § 2521(2).

         [¶18] Thus, although Maine's chemical testing statute bears the title "Implied consent to chemical tests," the statute "no longer provides that a person will be 'deemed' to have consented to testing by operating a motor vehicle on Maine's roads." Boyd, 2017 ME 36, ¶ 13, 156 A.3d 748. The statute was amended to impose on a driver a duty to submit to testing when there is probable cause to believe that the driver has operated a motor vehicle while under the influence. Id. Accordingly, we refer to the statute as the "duty-to-submit" statute and clarify that LeMeunier-Fitzgerald did not, by operation of her vehicle, "imply" that she consented to chemical testing.

         [¶19] The duty to submit does not, however, create a statutory mandate to submit to testing. Rather, it provides specific consequences for a driver's decision not to comply with that duty. See 29-A M.R.S. § 2521(3), (5), (6) (2017). In order for the consequences of refusal to apply, the driver must have been provided with a direct and clear explanation of those consequences. See id.§ 2521(3).

         [¶20] The specific question before us concerns the voluntariness of LeMeunier-Fitzgerald's verbal consent given after receiving warnings of the consequences of refusing, despite the existence of probable cause, to submit to testing. With respect to such warnings, the statute provides:

Neither a refusal to submit to a test nor a failure to complete a test may be used for any of the purposes specified in paragraph A, B or C unless the person has first been ...

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