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Car accident DUI conviction upheld by appeals court

A Wilmington man who was convicted of driving while intoxicated after causing a 2012 accident had his conviction affirmed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals this month. The court handed down its opinion regarding the legality of drawing blood from suspected DWI offenders without their consent in cases of emergency without first obtaining a warrant.

In this case, the convicted man's argument was that the officer had time to get a judge to sign a warrant but elected not to on the morning of the car accident. In May of 2012, the driver ran into the back of a truck, and the responding officer from the Wilmington Police Department detected the odor of alcohol on the driver, who appeared injured.

The officer decided not to obtain a warrant and instead arranged for the driver to be treated at a local hospital. While there, he allegedly admitted to consuming alcohol. Twice his breath tests for alcohol were positive. Shortly before 4 a.m., the officer instructed a nurse to draw his blood without the driver's consent. It registered above the legal limit at .15.

Drivers and their passengers who are injured in accidents with drunk drivers can use evidence of the other driver's impairment to support any civil litigation that could arise from the collision. However, proving someone was drunk at the time he or she caused an accident is not necessary to recover damages for injuries, medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.

The affirmation of the conviction in this North Carolina case gives more leeway to police as they pursue charges for suspected impaired drivers. Evidence that leads to criminal convictions is fair game for the civil court system as well.

Source:  Indy Week, "Court of Appeals: warrantless DWI blood draws permissible" John H. Tucker, Jul. 16, 2014

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