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State v. Bazinet

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

April 10, 2018

THE STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
v.
JAMES BAZINET

          Argued: October 19, 2017

          Gordon J. MacDonald, attorney general (Nicole E.A. Thorspecken, attorney, on the brief, and Sean R. Locke, assistant attorney general, orally), for the State.

          Christopher M. Johnson, chief appellate defender, of Concord, on the brief and orally, for the defendant.

          HICKS, J.

         The defendant, James Bazinet, was convicted by a jury of negligent homicide for driving a motor vehicle while he was intoxicated and causing a fatal collision. See RSA 630:3, II (2016). He appeals the rulings of the Superior Court (Colburn, J.) denying his motions to suppress the results of testing done by the State on a blood draw sample taken by the hospital after he arrived there unconscious. We affirm.

         The following facts are drawn from the trial court's orders denying the defendant's motions to suppress, or are otherwise undisputed. At approximately 11:00 p.m. on December 1, 2012, the defendant crashed his vehicle into a tree in Nashua. His female passenger died. Shortly after the crash, Officer Berry of the Nashua Police Department arrived at the scene. He examined the vehicle and noticed that neither the passenger nor the driver had been wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash. He saw short grayish-brown hairs, consistent with the defendant's hair color, embedded in the glass of the front windshield. Berry also discovered a thermos-type cup in the passenger side of the center console containing liquid that smelled like alcohol.

         The defendant was taken to the emergency room at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center (SNHMC). He arrived unconscious and with critical injuries. After his arrival, a phlebotomist drew five tubes of the defendant's blood, which were sent to the hospital's internal lab for testing (hereinafter, hospital blood draw sample). According to the phlebotomist, it is the hospital's routine medical practice to immediately obtain blood samples from trauma patients upon their arrival. The phlebotomist testified that the blood tests can reveal internal bleeding or show deficient electrolyte levels.

         Early the next morning, Detective MacGregor of the Nashua Police Department delivered a letter to SNHMC requesting, pursuant to RSA 329:26, all hospital blood or urine samples taken from the defendant. See RSA 329:26 (2017). Later that day, Sergeant Mederos of the Nashua Police Department went to the hospital and collected four of the blood tubes. Thereafter, Officer Trefry of the Nashua Police Department sought a warrant to test the blood. A circuit court judge advised Trefry that he did not need a warrant because the police were already in lawful possession of the blood; thus, the judge did not sign the warrant. The State then ran a blood alcohol content and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) test on the blood.

         Prior to trial, the defendant filed several motions to suppress. As relevant here, the defendant relied upon Part I, Article 19 of the New Hampshire Constitution and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution to suppress: (1) the hospital blood draw sample; (2) the results of the blood alcohol content test performed on the hospital blood draw sample by the State; and (3) the results of the DNA test performed on the hospital blood draw sample by the State.

         The trial court denied the defendant's motions. The court ruled that the defendant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the hospital blood draw sample, and that the State acted lawfully in obtaining and testing it for blood alcohol content without a warrant. Citing a case discussing the emergency exception to consent in the civil context, the court found that the defendant implicitly consented to medical treatment. The court further concluded that "no 'search' occurred within the meaning of our constitutions when the police later tested the defendant's blood for DNA."

         At trial, the State presented testimony by a criminalist in the New Hampshire Division of State Police forensic science laboratory that the DNA obtained from the blood on the windshield matched the defendant's DNA from the blood draw sample. The State also offered testimony from two firefighters who, upon arriving at the scene of the crash, observed the defendant's feet pointed toward the driver's side of the vehicle. In addition, one of the firefighters testified to observing hair that "[s]eemed to be from the male" in an imprint on the driver's side of the windshield. The State further presented the results of the defendant's blood alcohol content test it performed on the hospital blood draw sample.

         The jury convicted the defendant of negligent homicide. This appeal followed.

         When reviewing a trial court's rulings on a motion to suppress, we accept the trial court's factual findings unless they lack support in the record or are clearly erroneous. State v. Davis, 161 N.H. 292, 294-95 (2010). We review the court's legal conclusions de novo. Id. at 295.

         On appeal, the defendant argues that the trial court's failure to suppress the results of the blood alcohol content and DNA tests performed by the State violated his rights under Part I, Article 19 of the New Hampshire Constitution and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. With respect to both the DNA and the blood alcohol content tests the State ran on the hospital blood draw sample, the defendant argues that the trial court erred by relying upon the emergency exception to the requirement of consent to find that he implicitly consented to the hospital blood draw. As to the DNA results, the defendant argues that the trial court erred by finding that he did not maintain an expectation of privacy in his DNA contained within ...


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