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State v. Baddeley

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fifth Division

February 6, 2019


          MCFADDEN, P. J., RICKMAN and MARKLE, JJ.

          Rickman, Judge.

         The State appeals from the trial court's decision to suppress the results of a chemical blood test in this action arising out of an automobile collision. For the reasons that follow, we reverse.

         "In reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress, this Court must construe the record in the light most favorable to the factual findings and judgment of the trial court and accept the trial court's findings of disputed fact unless they are clearly erroneous." (Citations omitted.) State v. Turner, 304 Ga. 356 (818 S.E.2d 589) (2018). "An appellate court also generally must limit its consideration of the disputed facts to those expressly found by the trial court." Caffee v. State, 303 Ga. 557, 557 (814 S.E.2d 386) (2018). However, "the trial court's application of the law to undisputed facts is subject to de novo review." (Citations and punctuation omitted.) State v. Clay, 339 Ga.App. 473 (793 S.E.2d 636) (2016).

         So viewed, the evidence at the suppression hearing shows that a trooper with the Georgia State Patrol investigated the scene of a collision in Madison County involving a Ford Focus and a Jeep. Thereafter, the trooper located Baddeley, the 63-year-old driver of the Jeep, at St. Mary's Hospital in a room in the emergency department. The trooper observed that Baddeley had bloodshot, watery eyes and slow and slurred speech. The trooper also detected a strong odor of alcohol coming from Baddeley's breath as he talked. The trooper then administered the horizontal gaze nystagmus test and obtained six clues suggesting impairment. The trooper placed Baddeley under arrest without taking him into custody, read him the Georgia Implied Consent Notice, and asked Baddeley to agree to a blood test. Baddeley refused; the trooper testified that Baddeley said he did not want to take the test, that he "[s]hook his head."

         Thereafter, the trooper prepared a driver's license suspension form, presented it to Baddeley, and explained that by refusing to submit to the blood test, his license would be suspended but that the form functioned as a temporary permit. In so doing, the trooper told Baddeley that if he did not submit, the trooper wound "yank" Baddeley's license "as of then." Baddeley then changed his mind and consented to the test, and the test ensued. On direct examination by his own attorney, Baddeley testified that he changed his mind in part because the trooper said that he was going to "yank" Baddeley's license. He also testified that he changed his mind because he felt "very intimidated" by the trooper's "body language and the way he was looking at me." Baddeley did not recall telling the trooper that he felt intimidated. Baddeley did not further testify about the trooper's body language or demeanor.

         Based on these facts, the trial court held that the totality of the circumstances showed that "the defendant was intimidated and coerced into changing his mind and that his agreement to take the [State-administered blood] test was not voluntary or actual consent." In so doing, the court found that Baddeley testified that "the Trooper's demeanor changed when [Baddeley] refused [to take the test]." On appeal, the State contends the trial court erred as a matter of law.

         "The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section I, Paragraph XIII of the Georgia Constitution protect an individual's right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, including the compelled withdrawal of blood." Clay, 339 Ga.App. at 475. "Thus, the warrantless extraction of blood is presumed to be invalid, subject only to a few specifically established exceptions," including voluntary consent, for which the State has the burden of establishing actual consent. Id.; see also Williams v. State, 296 Ga. 817, 821-822 (771 S.E.2d 373) (2015). Thus, "mere compliance with statutory implied consent requirements does not, per se, equate to actual, and therefore voluntary, consent on the part of the suspect so as to be an exception to the constitutional mandate of a warrant." Id. at 822. Rather, "the State has the burden of proving that the accused acted freely and voluntarily under the totality of the circumstances." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Id. at 821. The test is objective: "the court should consider whether a reasonable person would feel free to decline the officers' request to search or otherwise terminate the encounter. Mere acquiescence to the authority asserted by a police officer cannot substitute for free consent." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) State v. Young, 339 Ga.App. 306, 311 (793 S.E.2d 186) (2016); see also Florida v. Jimeno, 500 U.S. 248, 251 (111 S.Ct. 1801, 114 L.Ed.2d 297) (1991) ("The standard for measuring the scope of a suspect's consent under the Fourth Amendment is that of 'objective' reasonableness.").

         The totality of the circumstances includes factors such as "prolonged questioning; the use of physical punishment; the accused's age, level of education, intelligence, length of detention, and advisement of constitutional rights; and the psychological impact of these factors on the accused." State v. Austin, 310 Ga.App. 814, 817-818 (1) (714 S.E.2d 671) (2011). In applying these factors to the facts of specific cases, courts have reached several conclusions:

A consent to search will normally be held voluntary if the totality of the circumstances fails to show that the officers used fear, intimidation, threat of physical punishment, or lengthy detention to obtain the consent. And a defendant's affirmative response to the implied consent notice may itself be sufficient evidence of actual and voluntary consent, absent reason to believe the response was involuntary.

         (Citations and punctuation omitted.) Clay, 339 Ga.App. at 475. Further, "there is no unlawful coercion where . . . the officer merely informs the arrestee of the permissible range of sanctions that the State may ultimately be authorized to impose," and "license suspension is a true and legitimate consequence of refusing to submit to or submitting and failing the test." (Punctuation omitted.) Gutierrez v. State, 228 Ga.App. 458, 459 (2) (491 S.E.2d 898) (1997) (Citation and punctuation omitted). See also Young, 339 Ga.App. at 311-312 (same).

         Here, there are no objective facts in the transcript upon which the trial court was authorized to conclude that a reasonable 63-year-old person would not feel free to decline the trooper's request for a blood test. Indeed, Baddeley initially refused to take the test, which reflects that he knew he had a right to do so. The only purported evidence to the contrary is that Baddeley felt intimidated by the trooper's "body language and the way he was looking at [him]." But Baddeley did not describe the relevant body language or demeanor in any way. And the trial court's finding that "the Trooper's demeanor changed when [Baddeley] refused [to take the test]" is wholly unsupported by the record and therefore clearly erroneous. There is no testimony about the trooper's demeanor nor a change in it. All we have is Baddeley's subjective feeling of intimidation. Although the trooper testified that Baddeley became argumentative at one point, there is no evidence regarding the topic of that argument or whether it contributed to Baddeley's feeling of intimidation.

         Finally, the use of the word "yank," without more, is insufficient to show coercion. Cf. Humphries v. State, 327 Ga.App. 542, 544 (759 S.E.2d 611) (2014) ("If a person has declined to submit to a state-administered test, officers are allowed to use "fair and reasonable" methods of persuasion to get them to rescind the refusal."). Used in this manner, "yank" has been defined as "[to] remove abruptly"[1] or "to remove abruptly and unceremoniously, "[2] and under the applicable statute, the law enforcement officer takes possession of the driver's license "at the time of the person's refusal." OCGA § 40-5-67.1 (f) (1). Thus, the trooper accurately told Baddeley that he would take his license abruptly if he refused to comply, as the law provides, which, as shown in Gutierrez, 228 Ga.App. at 459 (2), is insufficient to show coercion.

         In State v. Quezada, 295 Ga.App. 522 (672 S.E.2d 497) (2009), after being read the implied consent notice, Quezada refused to submit to a chemical test of her blood. Id. at 522. The officer then transported her to the police station, placed her in a cell, and told her that if she changed her mind, she could still submit to a breath test. Id. at 522-523. When the officer then filled out and presented a license suspension form to Quezada, Quezada told the officer that she had "changed her mind" and would take the breath test. Id. at 523. At a hearing on Quezada's motion to suppress, she testified that she only changed her mind after the officer repeatedly asked her to do so because she felt that she would not get out of the jail unless she did. Id. The trial court granted the motion to suppress based on Quezada's initial refusal, and this Court reversed. Id. at ...

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