As a firm that practices criminal defense law in Burlington County, we typically deal with “bad facts”. Meaning, facts unfavorable to my client or facts that are just plain disturbing. There is a saying in the legal community, “Bad Facts Make Bad Law.” It is known by every attorney because it is driven into you in Law School. The recent Appellate Division decision in State v. Jones is a classic example. In Jones, Donna Jones was driving her vehicle in Cherry Hill when she struck a car waiting at a red light. She was unconscious, injured and taken to the hospital. At the hospital, the police directed that her blood be drawn without a warrant. She had a BAC of .345, which is more than 4x the legal limit.
Under the law as it stood prior to the decision in Jones, the US Supreme court in Missouri v. McNeely held that police were required to get a warrant before drawing blood. The Court in McNeely held that the dissipation of alcohol in a defendant’s system was not enough to forego the warrant requirement. Under that decision, Ms. Jones’ blood draw was improper (in the absence of a warrant) and her blood results were required to be suppressed. The Appellate Division did not see it that way. It held that the Jones case involved an accident, injuries, traffic jams and other circumstances, which were not present in the McNeely case. Those special circumstances supported the warrantless blood sample in Jones.
There were 11 police officers at the scene of the accident in Jones. Any one of them could have called the duty judge and obtained a search warrant over the phone … while on the scene of the accident or at the hospital. Nevertheless, the Appellate Division elected not to follow McNeely. Rather, it distinguished the facts of Jones from McNeely and rendered a decision resulting in the successful prosecution of the drunk driver. Had Ms. Jones not been 4x the legal limit and had she not run into a stopped vehicle at a red light, both facts that are disturbing, would this decision have been issued?