Last week, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided Commonwealth v. Smith, where it examined the issue of whether police must inform a driver of a vehicle involved in an accident that the purpose of administering a blood test is to conduct a criminal investigation to see if the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The court ruled that the driver need not be apprised of this, provided that the totality of the circumstances demonstrate that a reasonable person in the driver’s situation would have known that the blood test was for a criminal investigation.
On October 22, 2008, appellee-defendant Daniel Smith was watching Game 1 of the World Series. Evidence showed he had approximately eight beers during the game, and the following morning, drove from his place of employment to the bank, not feeling intoxicated at all from the previous night. On the way to the bank, Smith caused an accident with another vehicle that killed its driver and injured its passenger. Officers at the scene did not have probable cause to compel Smith to take a blood test, but asked Smith to do so anyway, and he complied. Two blood draws indicated a BAC of .083 and .082, and Smith was charged with DUI and homicide by vehicle while DUI.
At a suppression hearing, Smith argued that since he was not told that the purpose of the blood test was to conduct a criminal investigation, and the officers did not have probable cause to compel him to submit to a test, the results of the test should be suppressed. The trial court found these arguments unpersuasive and refused to suppress the evidence, and a trial by jury found him guilty of the charges. Smith appealed to the Superior Court, which held that for results of a blood test after an accident to be admissible, the officer must explicitly tell the driver that the test is going to be used for a criminal investigation. The Commonwealth appealed, and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania heard the case.
The Supreme Court rejected the Superior Court’s holding of a per se rule that the driver must be informed of the nature of the test, instead holding that the totality of the circumstances must objectively show that the person should have known the purpose of the test, and that the driver was not tricked into taking the test as a result of deceit or misrepresentation. The court found that Smith, a college graduate, should have known the purpose of the test when the officer “told [him] about the serious and potentially fatal nature of the accident, and asked [him] to consent to a blood test due to the seriousness of the accident to eliminate the possibility of drugs or alcohol being involved.” Moreover, Smith was told that he could refuse to take the test, and there was no deceit or trickery involved. As such, Smith should have known what the purpose of the test was, and the evidence was admissible.