Appellate court: Teen’s blood draw from fatal wreck must be suppressed

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A teen involved in a fatal wreck will have her blood draw results suppressed after the Court of Appeals of Indiana determined the police officer at the scene violated her rights by failing to tell her she had the right to speak with her mother privately before getting tested.

In April 2021, officer Matt Fox of the Fortville Police Department was dispatched to investigate a serious motor vehicle crash. Upon arrival at the scene, he learned L.W., who had been driving an SUV, had collided with motorcyclist Guy Washburn.

Washburn died of his injuries while L.W. was unhurt.

Fox found L.W. on a curb crying, with her mother, who had been called to the scene, sitting next to her.

L.W.’s mother told the officer that her daughter was 17 years old. In turn, he told L.W.’s mother that whenever there is a crash with serious injuries, “We have to draw your daughter’s blood. (OK)? That’s just the law.”

Fox then stated L.W. was not under arrest, and “it’s all a formality.” Additionally, he said his investigation would not necessarily result in “criminal charges” being filed.

Fox then produced an implied consent advisement, which he gave to L.W. The teen indicated she agreed to the blood draw, and Fox explained to her that he would transport her to the hospital for the procedure, with her mother driving separately.

He said the blood draw was “required by state law” and again called it a “formality.” Also, he told L.W. she would be allowed to go home after the blood draw.

For her part, L.W. said she did not remember the details of the accident, did not see the motorcycle and may have fallen asleep while driving.

Upon arriving at a nearby hospital, L.W.’s mother signed a form consenting to the blood draw. The state alleges subsequent testing of the sample revealed the presence of a metabolite of THC, a controlled substance.

Fox later admitted he had not advised L.W. at the crash site, in the police vehicle or at the hospital that she had a right to consult with her mother before agreeing to a blood draw. He agreed it would have taken only “10 seconds” at most to provide that advisement.

The state later filed a delinquency petition alleging L.W. was a delinquent child for acts that, if committed by an adult, would have amounted to causing death when operating a vehicle with a schedule I or II controlled substance or its metabolite in the blood, a Level 4 felony, and reckless homicide, a Level 5 felony.

L.W. responded with a motion to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the blood draw, claiming the evidence was obtained in violation of federal and state constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. In a subsequent brief, she argued she had not been given an opportunity to speak privately with her mother prior to consenting to the blood draw, in violation of Indiana law.

The Hancock Circuit Court denied the motion, and an appeal ensued.

Before the Court of Appeals, judges reversed Wednesday, finding L.W.’s rights were violated and the blood draw should be suppressed.

“The evidence of THC metabolite in L.W.’s blood was obtained only after L.W. and her mother consented to the blood draw. Their consent was invalid, despite the implied consent advisement and the advisement provided by the phlebotomist, because they were not advised of their right to talk privately in advance of deciding whether to consent,” Senior Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote.

“Further, they both testified they would have exercised their right to talk privately if Officer Fox had informed them of that right,” Friedlander continued. The State’s claim that L.W. was required to prove she would have declined to consent after conferring with her mother improperly places the burden of proof on L.W. in the harmless error analysis. Further, because L.W. and her mother were deprived of their right to privately discuss the blood draw, any conclusions as to what they would have decided to do if they had been allowed to converse would be speculative at best.”

The case of L.W. v. State of Indiana, 22A-JV-1138, was thus remanded with instructions for the trial court to grant the motion to suppress.

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