THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Supreme Court
The State, Appellant,
Patrick Mullins, Respondent.
Appeal From Richland County
Costa M. Pleicones, Judge
Opinion No. 24686
Heard October 15, 1996 - Filed September 2, 1997
Beth Caldwell, Acting Assistant Solicitor for the Fifth
Judicial Circuit, of Columbia, for appellant.
Jack B. Swerling, of Columbia, for respondent.
FINNEY, C.J.: Respondent, Patrick Mullins, was arrested for
felony driving under the influence (DUI) after allegedly causing a collision which
killed a motorcycle driver. Respondent was taken from the scene of the accident
to the hospital. A Highway Patrolman invoked the Implied Consent Statute to
obtain a blood sample.1 Respondent refused to give a blood sample because of
1 S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2950(a) and (d) (Supp. 1993) provides in part that:
(a) A person who operates a motor vehicle in this State
is considered to have given consent to chemical tests of
his breath, blood, or urine for the purpose of determining
the presence of alcohol or drugs if arrested for an offense
arising out of acts alleged to have been committed while
the person was operating a motor vehicle while under the
influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of them . . .
(d) If a person under arrest refuses, upon the request of
a law enforcement officer, to submit to chemical tests as
provided in subsection (a) of this section, none may be
STATE v. MULLINS
his fear of needles. The deputy coroner arrived at the hospital and directed the
attending physician to have a blood sample taken. A sample was drawn without
respondent's consent. Respondent was subsequently indicted. He filed a motion
to suppress evidence of the blood test. A hearing was held and the trial judge
issued an order suppressing evidence of the blood test. The State appeals the
trial judge's order.
Respondent moved to suppress the blood test evidence pursuant to
the Implied Consent Statute. The State opposed the motion asserting the
deputy coroner acted within State law in securing a blood sample from
respondent to determine if the victim's death was caused by respondent
operating a vehicle while under the influence. The State contends the coroner's
plenary authority to investigate the cause and manner of death2 and statutory
warrant authority3 includes the power to obtain a blood sample from a live
suspect in a felony DUI case. We disagree.
The plain language of S.C. Code Ann. § 17-7-80 does not authorize
the coroner to take blood from a live person to determine the cause and manner
of death in a motor vehicle accident. Further, S.C. Code Ann. § 17-7-170 does
not authorize the coroner to issue a warrant to search and seize an individual
for the purposes of taking blood.
The trial court found the Implied Consent Statute is controlling
under the facts and circumstances of this case; once respondent refused the
blood test, no chemical tests should have been performed. Since the sample was
drawn without his consent, the evidence of the test was properly suppressed.
Accordingly, the trial judge did not err in concluding the Implied Consent
Statute is controlling and evidence of the blood test is inadmissible.
MOORE, WALLER and BURNETT, JJ., and Acting Associate
Justice George T. Gregory, Jr., concur.
2 The coroner shall examine the body of any driver and any pedestrian who
dies within four hours of a motor vehicle accident and take or cause to have taken
by a qualified person such blood or other fluids of the victim as are necessary to
a determination of the presence and percentages of alcohol or drugs. S.C. Code
Ann. § 17-7-80 (1985). (Emphasis supplied).
3 "The coroner may issue warrants, summon witnesses and examine before the
jury any person present, whether summoned or not, concerning the death." S.C.
Code Ann. § 17-7-170 (1985).