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State v. Palmer

Supreme Court of Maine

July 26, 2018


          Submitted On Briefs: June 27, 2018

          Jeremy Pratt, Esq., and Ellen Simmons, Esq., Camden, for appellant Rowe L. Palmer

          Maeghan Maloney, District Attorney and Tyler J. LeClair, Asst. Dist. Atty., Prosecutorial District IV, Augusta, for appellee State of Maine


          HJELM, J.

         [¶1] Rowe L. Palmer appeals from a judgment entered by the trial court (Kennebec County, E. Walker, J.) after a jury trial, convicting him of aggravated operating under the influence (Class C), 29-A M.R.S. § 2411(l-A)(D)(1) (2017), and aggravated assault (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. § 208(1)(A) (2017). Palmer argues that the court [Mullen, D.C.J.) erred by denying part of his motion to suppress evidence of his alcohol level determined from a sample of his blood that was seized without a warrant. Because the court did not err by concluding that probable cause existed and exigent circumstances justified the warrantless blood draw, we affirm the judgment.

          I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The motion court found the following facts that are supported by competent evidence presented at the suppression hearing. State v. Turner, 2017 ME 185, ¶ 2, 169 A.3d 931.

         [¶3] At approximately 4:00 p.m. on January 4, 2016, while traveling in Chelsea, Palmer drove a truck across the centerline of the road in a posted 45-mile-per-hour zone. Palmer's truck collided head-on with an oncoming vehicle. That other vehicle came to rest on its roof. A deputy sheriff and other first responders were dispatched to the scene, where mechanical equipment was needed to extract the two occupants from the vehicle that Palmer struck. Palmer was pinned inside his vehicle with extensive injuries and had to be removed by rescue personnel. Both occupants of the other vehicle were also injured. One was taken to Central Maine Medical Center by medical helicopter, and the other occupant and Palmer were transported separately by ambulance to Maine General Medical Center.

         [¶4] While Palmer was being driven to the hospital by ambulance, a sample of his blood was taken with the use of a blood kit provided by law enforcement.[1] Around 6:30 p.m., Deputy Sheriff Jacob Pierce was instructed to meet Palmer at the hospital. When Pierce arrived at the hospital, he saw Palmer and Palmer's wife in an examining room along with medical personnel. Following up on the blood draw taken in the ambulance, Pierce noticed that the blood kit used in the ambulance was expired. Pierce left the hospital to obtain an unexpired blood kit, and when he returned, a member of the hospital's medical staff told him that Palmer was about to go into surgery. Pierce informed the staff member that he needed a blood sample from Palmer.

         [¶5] During Pierce's interactions with Palmer, he did not notice the smell of alcohol. While waiting for a member of the medical staff to arrive to take a blood sample, however, Pierce overheard Palmer tell his family that he had consumed "a few beers with lunch." Pierce told Palmer that he would need another blood draw and explained the reasons why the sample taken in the ambulance could not be used. Palmer did not refuse the request, but Pierce did not recall at the motion hearing asking for Palmer's consent, and Palmer was unable to sign a consent form because of injuries to his dominant hand. Pierce did not seek a search warrant because, due to Palmer's impending surgery, he "needed to expedite the process." The motion hearing record shows that a phlebotomist took a sample of Palmer's blood, which Pierce secured as part of the investigation.

         [¶6] Several months later, Palmer was charged by criminal complaint with one count of aggravated criminal OUI (Class C), 29-A M.R.S. § 2411(l-A)(D)(1), that included an allegation that Palmer caused serious bodily injury to another. Palmer was ultimately indicted for that charge and one count of aggravated assault (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. § 208(1) (A), based on an allegation that Palmer's conduct created a substantial risk of death or extended convalescence necessary for the recovery of physical health. He pleaded not guilty to each charge and filed a motion to suppress the evidence resulting from the two blood draws. After holding a hearing on the motion, in an order issued in November of 2016, the court [Mullen, D.C.J.) granted the motion to the extent that it requested suppression of the evidence derived from the blood sample taken in the ambulance, see supra n.l, but denied that part of the motion relating to the blood draw at the hospital. The court found that there was probable cause to support the seizure of a blood sample and that there were exigent circumstances obviating the need for a warrant. The court made the following factual findings supporting the latter conclusion:

[Palmer] had been involved in a serious motor vehicle accident involving serious injuries to three people. There was evidence that [Palmer] was responsible for the accident. [Palmer] stated that he had consumed alcohol earlier in the day. [Palmer] was about to go into surgery and the officer was told that the officer only had a few minutes because "[Palmer] needed surgery."

         [¶7] A two-day jury trial was held in October of 2017, where Palmer was found guilty of both charges. The following month, the court sentenced Palmer on the aggravated assault charge to eight years' incarceration with all but three years suspended and a three-year period of probation, and he was ordered to pay restitution of approximately $8, 700 to the occupants of the other vehicle involved in the collision. On the aggravated OUI charge, the court imposed a concurrent three-year prison term, a fine ...

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