October 31, 2011

Colorado Court of Appeals 10-13-11 Criminal Law Decision - People v. Grassi

People v. Grassi            Probable Cause  & Blood Draws / Fellow Officer Rule
Facts: Previously, a jury convicted Mr. Grassi Vehicular Homicide, manslaughter, DUI and DUI – excessive alcohol. He appealed, and the Court of Appeals remanded the case to determine whether the police had probable cause to draw blood from the unconscious Mr. Grassi. On remand, the trial court held a hearing, and determined that the state patrol did possess enough facts to establish probable cause for the blood draw from Mr. Grassi.
Issue: Whether the state patrol had probable cause to draw blood samples from Mr. Grassi?
Held: Yes.
Reasoning: The Court of Appeals, in an opinion authored by Judge Terry, distinguished this case from People v. Reynolds, 895 P.2d 1059 (Colo.1995), and People v. Roybal, 655 P.2d 410 (Colo.1982). Here, the Court claimed more existed than merely an accident and an odor of alcohol. The Court pointed to the following: no yaw marks existed indicating Mr. Grassi did not apply the brakes; the car went some 200 ft. off of the roadway; the car had no damage or problem that caused the accident; the road was clear, dry, and nothing existed in the roadway to cause the accident; troopers opined that Mr. Grassi's car traveled along the “fog line” (white line) which, they continued, was indicative of someone driving under the influence; Mr. Grassi “still had a strong odor of alcohol three hours after the accident.”
Issue: Whether the “fellow officer rule” applies when the officer taking the blood draw did not speak with the officer who may have information to establish probable cause?
Held: Sure.
Reasoning: If someone, at some time, who is employed by the law enforcement agency possesses sufficient information to establish probable cause, that knowledge, the Court of Appeals theory goes, may be imputed throughout the entire law enforcement agency. Further, now, according to the Court, you can add all the bits of information from each officer to establish, as a whole, the agency possessed probable cause.  The Court quoted People v. Arias, 159 P.3d 134 (Colo. 2007), “The fellow officer rule provides that a law enforcement officer who does not personally possess a sufficient basis to make an arrest nevertheless may do so if (1) he acts at the direction or as a result of communications with another officer, and (2) the police as a whole possess a sufficient basis to make the arrest.” Arias, 159 P.3d at 139. Hence, the officer who ordered the draw of Mr. Grassi’s blood had no clue what the accident reconstructionist would find at the time he ordered a third officer to go to the hospital to draw Mr. Grassi’s blood. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, according to the Court, the state patrol possessed probable cause to order a blood draw.

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