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COA: Totality of facts support blood seizure

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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A blood sample seized by the state from an unconscious woman didn't violate her rights under the Fourth Amendment because all of the circumstances surrounding the car accident involving the woman led to a fair probability she drove a car while drunk, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

In Samara J. Copas v. State of Indiana, No. 33A01-0801-CR-3, Samara Copas appealed the trial court's denial of her motion to suppress a blood sample taken by the state after obtaining a search warrant. Copas was involved in a car accident with another vehicle and a passerby found her lying unconscious outside her Suburban on the driver's side. The passerby noticed broken alcoholic beverage containers in the car and the smell of alcohol coming from the Suburban. The driver of a small SUV involved the accident died at the scene.

The Henry County Sheriff's Department got a search warrant to get a blood sample from Copas, who was unconscious and unable to give her consent.

The warrant was based on the belief of the sheriff's deputy who responded to the crash that Copas was involved in an accident, her car smelled of alcohol, and there were alcoholic beverage containers in view in the car.

The blood sample allegedly revealed Copas' blood alcohol content was 0.15 and she had cocaine in her system. She was charged with causing death when operating a motor vehicle with alcohol in the body, causing death when operating a motor vehicle with schedule II controlled substance in the body, and reckless homicide. The trial court denied Copas' motion to suppress the blood evidence on grounds the warrant lacked probable cause.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reviewed the search warrant obtained by the sheriff's department and found there was probable cause that her blood would reveal evidence of criminal behavior, wrote Judge Edward Najam.

Taken individually, the facts supporting the search warrant don't establish probable cause, as Copas argued, but the appellate court has to consider the totality of the circumstances rather than facts in isolation, he wrote.

The totality of the circumstances show with fair probability Copas operated the Suburban while intoxicated.

"While Copas might ultimately challenge the sufficiency of the State's evidence at trial, her arguments are not enough to defeat the 'fair probability' that she operated the vehicle while intoxicated, which is all that is required for probable cause," wrote the judge.
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