The Montana Supreme Court recently got to decide an interesting case, State v. C. Harrison, which involved a DUI suspect who was convicted of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence.
The case began when a Missoula police officer pulled Christina Harrison over and arrested her for DUI after finding that she was exhibiting various signs of intoxication. After getting a warrant, the officer took her to the local hospital to obtain a blood sample. However, while the officer was distracted, and before the sample could be drawn, Harrison fled. She was picked up the following day. In addition to charging Harrison with driving under the influence and escape, the State also charged her with tampering with evidence for "leaving the hospital and thereby preventing a blood sample from being drawn."
Before trial, Harrison sought to have the tampering charged dismissed "on the ground that blood is not evidence until it is removed from the body." Her motion was denied and she was found guilty of that charge as well as the others. She subsequently appealed her case.
The Montana Supreme Court looked at "[w]hether the District Court erred in concluding that Harrison's blood, while still within her body, constituted physical evidence subject to tampering." The high court had previously decided a case, State v. Peplow, that Harrison relied upon for her assertion that blood within the body is not evidence. In addition, Harrison contended that "that legislative changes to the implied consent statutes do not alter [the Court's] ruling in that case." The State disagreed, arguing that the holding in Peplow was specific to just that case and is dissimilar to Harrison's. In addition, the State argues that the changes to the statute render the case inapplicable.
The Court noted that in the Peplow case, the defendant "consumed alcohol following an accident and prior to his blood alcohol level being tested." Based on this he was then charged with tampering. In that case, the court looked at "'whether a person's blood alcohol content, as it exists inside their body and within their control, constitutes 'physical evidence,' or a 'thing presented to the senses.'"
In Peplow, the court had concluded "that blood within an individual's body does not constitute physical evidence or a thing presented to the senses, " stating that "one's blood alcohol level 'is not evidence until it exists in a state capable of analysis." Thus, blood cannot be evidence until it has been removed from the body.
Based on the earlier case, which the Court stated was "dispositive in the present case," the Court ended up siding with Harrison. The Court found that Harrison's case was analogous to Peplow's as both dealt with when blood can be considered evidence. The Court concluded that "'physical evidence of [Harrison's] alcohol content is limited to that which is collected for analysis of [her] blood or breath.'"
The Court then reversed her conviction for tampering and remanded the case back to the lower court for that court to enter a judgment consistent with the Supreme Court's ruling.
If you or a loved one has been charged with Driving Under the Influence while in the State of Washington, please do not hesitate to contact criminal defense attorney Aaron Wolff today.