Court Opinion: Colorado Supreme Court Opinion for June 26

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

People v. White

The Colorado Supreme Court en banc reversed an order involving a suppression order.

According to the high court’s opinion, Thomas Mitchell was driving when a flat tire forced him to stop in the right-hand lane of traffic. While standing behind his car and removing items from his trunk, another driver, Eli White, struck him, pinning him between the two vehicles. 

A blood sample consensually provided by White at the scene of the crash later revealed the presence of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in an amount seven times that which under Colorado law, gives rise to a permissible inference that someone was driving under the influence of one or more drugs. 

Prosecutors charged White with vehicular assault-DUI and careless driving resulting in bodily injury. In a pretrial motion, White sought to suppress the results of the blood test, arguing by the time officers requested a blood sample from him, his investigatory stop had turned into an arrest that wasn’t supported by probable cause.

The district court granted the motion, ruling when the officers collected the blood sample from White, they lacked any indicia of drug intoxication and already determined they had no more questions for him and the cause of the collision was his distraction from the road as he attempted to adjust the car’s climate control. 

The district court found the officers’ continued detention of White for the purpose of getting his consent to provide a blood sample ran afoul of the Fourth Amendment. The court also believed White’s consent wasn’t sufficiently attenuated from what it viewed as his illegal arrest; it found the consent invalid. 

Prosecutors then brought this interlocutory appeal. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed the suppression order. The high court concluded the complex investigation into the collision was fluid and remained in progress when officers asked White if he would consent to providing a blood sample. 

The Colorado Supreme Court acknowledged White was detained for an extended period before the officers collected the sample, but the officers asked White if he would consent to a blood draw much earlier than that, about 30 minutes into the investigation. 

The high court further concluded there were substantial delays caused by White’s requests to consult his mother about the possibility of providing a blood sample, finding the officers accommodated White’s requests and allowed him to speak with his mom by phone and, once she arrived on scene, in person.

Under the circumstances present, the Colorado Supreme Court held the officers didn’t exceed the scope and character of the investigatory stop so as to transform it into an arrest. And because the officers didn’t unreasonably detain White, according to the high court, his consent to provide a blood sample wasn’t rendered invalid. The high court found the district court erred in suppressing the results of the blood test. The order was reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

Justice William Hood concurred in the judgment. Hood wrote he agreed with the majority’s judgment reversing the district court’s suppression order. Hood believed the majority unnecessarily waded into a fact-driven, and thus more questionable, analysis of the character and scope of an investigatory stop, contending the seizure at issue in the case was clearly supported by probable cause for careless driving resulting in bodily injury. 

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