A man has fought his driving while impaired charges since his was pulled over in July 2010. The case has made its way to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, and back to court in front of a jury. The jury acquitted the man of DWI after trial.
The man says that an officer with the Winston-Salem Police sat on his chest to obtain a blood sample without a warrant during the DWI investigation. The man argued that the warrantless procedure was a violation of his constitutional rights.
In the recent North Carolina DWI battle, the man was originally convicted of DWI in Forsythe District Court, but appealed to Superior Court. There, the judge dismissed the charge. The case found its way to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, which reversed the Superior Court ruling and sent the case back down. The man took his DWI charge before a jury recently. The results of the blood sample were suppressed at trial.
The jury heard testimony about the alleged incident from July 2010. Police claim that a Winston-Salem Police officer visited a gas station to stop a car for an alleged taillight violation. That car was not associated with the DWI allegations. Instead, police claimed that after the officer let the driver with the broken taillight go, he noticed a truck parked at the gas station and ran its plates.
The officer says that the registered owner of the truck showed as having a suspended driver’s license and the cop looked to investigate that issue. Police say the owner was in the driver’s seat of the parked truck. However, the officer reportedly never found any keys to the parked truck.
Police claim that the driver was agitated, and that the officer suspected that the driver was under the influence of cocaine. The man ultimately was hauled down to the hospital for a blood test, leading to the legal arguments seeking suppression of the evidence.
When the case was remanded for trial, prosecutors argued that the man’s agitated state and alleged poor performance on field sobriety tests were sufficient to show that the man was under the influence that night.
The criminal defense argued before the jury that the man was agitated because his constitutional rights were being violated. Police never saw the man driving the truck, and never saw keys. The defendant says that he had not been driving at all. The man reportedly admitted to having a beer and a drink that night, but never drove. He says that he was retrieving change from the truck to pay for something at the gas station. A video of the incident reportedly shows that the officer never saw the man drive the truck.
Friday, a Forsythe County jury spent about an hour deliberating before returning a not guilty verdict on the DWI charge.
The issue of whether a police officer can compel a blood sample without a warrant in a routine DWI case raises an interesting constitutional issue, which the United States Supreme Court is currently considering. In the next entry, we will discuss that issue in more detail.
Source: Winston-Salem Journal, “Winston-Salem man who alleged that police violated his rights acquitted of DWI,” Michael Hewlett, March 15, 2013