DUI Blood Results Suppressed Because Blood Drawn in the Wrong County

Like the Utah nurse in the news for refusing to draw blood from an unconscious patient, Lewis County has a nurse willing to protect the rights of his patients.

In the case, the arresting officer obtained a search warrant to draw the defendant’s blood in Lewis County, Tennessee.  Specifically, the warrant commanded the officer to “take custody of the suspect and transport the suspect to a person qualified to draw blood in Lewis County.”  Further, the jurisdiction of the magistrate that signed the warrant was limited to Lewis County.  See Tenn. R. Crim. P. 41(a) (“A magistrate with jurisdiction in the county where the property is located may issue a search warrant authorized by this rule.”).  Given the above, the trial court concluded (and the appellate court agreed) that the search was limited to Lewis County.

However, after a Lewis County nurse refused to take the defendant’s blood, the officer had the defendant’s blood drawn in Perry County, Tennessee, by a nurse that was not qualified to draw blood in Lewis County.  Thus, the search was unconstitutional.

Despite the officer’s actions, the State tried to save the search through (1) exigent circumstances and (2) the good faith exception.  First, the State argued that a “recalcitrant nurse” created the exigent circumstances, i.e., the loss of alcohol in the blood.  The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, however, strongly rejected the State’s contention that the nurse was recalcitrant:

We disagree with the State’s characterization of Mr. Lineberry as “recalcitrant.” While Tennessee Code Annotated section 55-10-406 lists those who are authorized to draw the blood of someone accused of a drunken driving related offense, neither this statute nor any other Tennessee statute compels medical personnel to forcibly draw a suspect’s blood whenever requested by an officer to do so. It has been recognized that multiple ethical and safety concerns arise from a forcible blood draw by medical personnel. See, e.g. Jacob M. Appel, Nonconsensual Blood Draws and Dual Loyalty: When Bodily Integrity Conflicts with the Public Health, 17 J. Health Care L. & Pol’y 129, 149-54 (2014); E. John Wherry, Jr., DWI Blood Alcohol Testing: Responding to a Proposal Compelling Medical Personnel to Withdraw Blood, 18 Seton Hall Legis. J. 655, 657, 670-71 (1994). Moveover, medical personnel should not be threatened, coerced, or intimidated into delay treating a sick or injured patient in order to forcibly draw the blood from a suspected drunk driver, who is uninjured and was not involved in an accident, for the sole purpose of assisting the officer in securing evidence. Given the safety and ethical concerns and the primary purpose of medical facilities to treat those who are sick and injured, a policy by a medical facility to decline to engage in forcible blood draws is reasonable. Contrary to the State’s characterization of Mr. Lineberry as “recalcitrant,” the evidence established that Mr. Lineberry was simply doing his job and complying with the medical facility’s policy.

Moreover, the court noted that the officer did not (1) contact the Lewis County medical facility before arriving or (2) attempt to locate anyone else in Lewis County qualified to draw blood.  Finally, it was not clear whether the defendant had reached the level of “complete absorption.”  If he had not reached the level of complete absorption, his BAC would have been increasing instead of decreasing.  Based on the foregoing, the appellate court rejected the State’s exigent circumstances argument.

The State then argued that the good faith exception applied.  However, the good faith exception does not apply to violations of the United States and Tennessee Constitutions.  Since the officer violated the defendant’s constitutional rights, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court’s suppression of the blood draw.

State v. Nunnery, No. M2016-01932-CCA-R9-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. July 13, 2017).


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