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Csehy v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Third Division

June 29, 2018


          ELLINGTON, P. J., BETHEL and GOBEIL, JJ.

          GOBEIL, JUDGE.

         Following a stipulated bench trial in Cobb County Superior Court, Rand Jason Csehy was convicted of two counts of possession of methamphetamine. Csehy appeals his convictions, asserting that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the results of the blood tests on which the State relied to prove its case. Specifically, Csehy contends that the blood tests at issue resulted from a prior, illegal search of Csehy's urine and were subject to suppression as the fruit of the poisonous tree. For reasons explained more fully below, we agree with Csehy that the court-ordered test of his urine violated his Fourth Amendment rights. We further find, however, that even in the absence of these test results, there existed probable cause to support the warrant for a search of Csehy's blood. Accordingly, we affirm the denial of Csehy's motion to suppress.

At a hearing on a motion to suppress, the trial judge sits as the trier of fact. On appeal from the grant or denial of such a motion, therefore, this Court must construe the evidence most favorably to uphold the findings and judgment of the trial court, and that court's findings as to disputed facts and credibility must be adopted unless clearly erroneous.

Watts v. State, 334 Ga.App. 770, 771 (780 S.E.2d 431) (2015) (citation and punctuation omitted). "Although we owe substantial deference to the way in which the trial court resolved disputed questions of material fact, we owe no deference at all to the trial court with respect to questions of law, and instead, we must apply the law ourselves to the material facts." Hughes v. State, 296 Ga. 744, 750 (770 S.E.2d 636) (2015).

         The relevant facts are undisputed and show that in September 2014, Csehy was representing a criminal defendant in a case before Cobb County Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs. Prior to calling the case for trial, Judge Grubbs observed Csehy acting "a little different," in that he seemed unable to sit for any length of time and kept running in and out of the court room.[1] Before proceeding with trial, Grubbs conducted a bench conference with Csehy and his client; at that time, the judge observed that Csehy was unable to stand without leaning on something, he was sweating profusely, and his eyes were bloodshot. Judge Grubbs began the bench conference by telling Csehy's client, "[Y]ou need to be aware that your lawyer is [currently the] subject of a petition for disciplinary action before the State Bar of the Supreme Court of Georgia. Are you aware of that?"[2] When the client responded affirmatively, Grubbs explained that the disciplinary proceeding could result either in Csehy's voluntary suspension from the practice of law or his disbarment. The client stated that he understood the situation and, in response to a question from Grubbs, stated he wanted to continue with Csehy representing him at trial. Upon hearing the client's response, Grubbs told Csehy, "Mr. Csehy, I've been watching you in the courtroom and I'm concerned about you and I'm going to have one of the deputies take you down and have a drug test. If you will, please." Csehy began to respond but the judge cut him off, telling him, "You need to go with the deputy." The transcript of the colloquy shows that Csehy then "[left the] courtroom with a deputy."

         Several hours later, the judge had another colloquy with Csehy and confirmed that he was continuing to represent the client and was announcing ready for trial. Judge Grubbs then told Csehy, "You know, you haven't been able to stand up without leaning on something. You were a little disheveled, at one point. Your eyes are bloodshot. And that's not a way you come into court. And your drug test tested positive for both cocaine and methamphetamine." Csehy responded that the drug test must be wrong and blamed his disheveled appearance on his car's broken air conditioner. Judge Grubbs replied that Csehy was "in no shape to try a case," at which point Csehy stated, "Judge, I'll take a blood test. I will go take one. . . . [I]n all honesty[, ] I don't even have the money to buy food right now." The judge rejected Csehy's request for a blood test, found him in contempt, and sentenced him to five days in the county jail.

         The following day, the Cobb County District Attorney's office applied for and obtained a search warrant for Csehy's blood. The affidavit in support of the warrant stated that a Cobb County ADA had gotten onto the elevator with Csehy when he arrived at the courthouse the previous day and noted that Csehy "had a flushed face and watery eyes that [were] unusually wide open" and the ADA had opined that "Csehy appeared to have lacked sleep." The affidavit further stated that Judge Grubbs

had made assessments of Csehy during the day and she noticed [that he] showed the physical manifestations of drug usage to include: glassy eyes, slurred speech, unusual and erratic speech and thought patterns, short[, ] disjointed spoken sentences, profuse perspiration and he also had a ruddy complexion. . . . [Csehy's] appearance was disheveled, he was fidgety, and he constantly leaned or supported himself throughout the day.

         Additionally, the investigator averred that Csehy had consented to a urine test, and that the results of that test were positive for methamphetamine and cocaine.

         After obtaining the search warrant, the district attorney's office arranged for Sheriff's deputies to transport Csehy from the jail to a local hospital, where Csehy was served with the warrant and where a sample of his blood was drawn. Forensic analysis of Csehy's blood performed at the GBI crime lab showed the presence of methamphetamine.

         In December 2014, the State indicted Csehy on a single count each of possession of methamphetamine and possession of chlordiazepoxide (a cocaine metabolite). Following his arrest, Csehy was granted bond, with one of the conditions requiring him to submit to random drug tests. Csehy's drug tests for January, February, and March 2015 were all positive for methamphetamine. The State thereafter entered a nolle prosequi as to the original indictment and reindicted Csehy on four counts of possession of methamphetamine, based on his blood test results in September 2014 and January, February, and March 2015.

         Prior to trial, Csehy filed a motion to suppress the results of the September 2014 blood test and all subsequent blood tests. Csehy argued that all of the blood tests resulted from Csehy's court-ordered urine test, which violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Thus, Csehy contended the blood test results were subject to exclusion as the fruit of the poisonous tree.

         Judge Grubbs testified at the hearing on the motion to suppress and stated that on the day in question, Csehy's physical appearance and conduct led her to believe that he was "high as a kite," and that she therefore could not let the trial go forward. And because the client indicated he wanted to proceed with Csehy as his lawyer, the judge felt she needed to order the drug test so she would have grounds for continuing the case.[3] Grubbs acknowledged that she ordered Csehy to take the test and that she required him to go with a deputy so that his urine could be obtained. The judge also conceded that obtaining Csehy's urine constituted a search and seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Grubbs explained, however, that she believed she had the authority to order such a warrantless search because, "I have a duty as a judge, a sworn duty as a judge, to preserve the integrity of my courtroom and to make sure the defendant is adequately defended. [The defendant] has a Sixth Amendment right to counsel . . . a Sixth Amendment right to competent counsel."

         Charles Lyda, the investigator with the Cobb County District Attorney's office who obtained the search warrant, testified that he was told to get a search warrant for Csehy's blood based on the fact that Csehy's urine had tested positive for illegal narcotics. Lyda explained that before drafting the affidavit he submitted in support of the warrant, he interviewed Judge Grubbs and the prosecutor assigned to Judge Grubbs's courtroom. Additionally, Lyda watched the video from Grubbs's courtroom on the day in question. According to Lyda, he wrote in his affidavit that Csehy had consented to the urine test because on the video Lyda did not see Csehy protesting the order to go and take the test.

         Csehy testified that he did not consent to the seizure of his urine and that he believed he was under court order to submit to the test. Csehy explained that a deputy escorted him to the test, keeping his hand on Csehy's elbow to make sure Csehy "wouldn't run off." The deputy also escorted Csehy to the restroom to obtain the sample and then escorted Csehy back to the courtroom.

         Following the hearing, the trial court entered an order denying the motion to suppress. The court found that Csehy did not consent to the urine test and that the warrantless test was not justified by exigent circumstances. Nevertheless, the court concluded that ...

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