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State v. Ravotto

July 12, 2000


Before Judges Havey, Keefe and A. A. Rodr¡guez.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rodriguez, A. A., J.A.D.


Argued: May 15, 2000

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County.

In this appeal from a drunk-driving conviction, we hold that the extraction of an uncooperative driver's blood, by a nurse in a hospital emergency room, while police officers are restraining the driver, does not violate the driver's federal or state constitutional right.

Richard Ravotto, age twenty-six, was arrested in Edgewater and charged with driving while under the influence, contrary to N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. Ravotto filed a motion to suppress the results of his blood alcohol analysis, which was denied by the Edgewater Municipal Court. Ravotto entered a conditional plea of guilty, pursuant to R. 7:6-2(c). He then appealed the denial of the motion to the Law Division.

The Law Division decided the motion de novo based upon the record of the municipal court motion hearing. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU) appeared as amicus curiae in the Law Division. The judge granted the motion and ordered the suppression of the blood evidence taken from Ravotto. We granted the State's motion for leave to appeal. We now reverse.

On January 18, 1997, at approximately 6:00 a.m., Edgewater Police Officers Steven Kochis and Edmund Sullivan responded to a call regarding a one vehicle accident on River Road. When the officers arrived at the scene they discovered an overturned car wrapped in a chain link fence on the side of the road. The two officers found Ravotto, conscious, inside the overturned vehicle in the rear seat. They asked him if he was injured and if there were others in the car. Ravotto replied that he was not injured and that he was alone in the vehicle. However, moments later, Ravotto exclaimed, "Hurry up, hurry up, there's three of us in here." The officers searched the area to see if any other passengers had been thrown from the car. No other victims were found. According to Kochis, firemen on the scene extracted Ravotto from the wreckage of his vehicle. Ravotto alleges that he crawled out of the rear car window without assistance.

Officer Kochis noted that there was a strong smell of alcohol emanating from Ravotto's breath. Ravotto admitted, at the suppression hearing, that he had consumed alcoholic beverages on the night of the accident. Officer Kochis told Ravotto that the ambulance corps wanted to take him to the hospital. Ravotto replied, "I don't need any hospital. I don't need any ambulance people. I'm okay." Officer Kochis insisted that Ravotto go to the hospital. When Ravotto physically resisted, Officer Kochis and certain emergency personnel restrained him, placed him on a backboard, and attached a stabilizing collar around his neck. When Ravotto continued to resist, Kochis handcuffed him and strapped him to the backboard. Kochis told Officer Sullivan to escort Ravotto to the hospital and to have a blood sample taken. Ravotto was placed under arrest for driving under the influence.

At 6:45 a.m., Ravotto, Sullivan, and the ambulance personnel departed for Englewood Hospital. During the trip, Ravotto remained "very combative." He attempted to sit up off the board and "was trying to rip the neck collar off" his neck. This behavior continued for the entire trip to Englewood Hospital, which is in a neighboring town.

Upon arrival at the hospital, Ravotto was placed in a treatment room. A doctor entered in order to examine him. While the doctor was taking Ravotto's blood pressure, Ravotto attempted to punch him. Ravotto was placed in restraints. Officer Sullivan testified that he remained with Ravotto at all times because he did not think it was safe to leave him alone.

Next, Officer Sullivan requested Emergency Room Nurse Joseph Solda to draw blood from Ravotto to determine his blood alcohol level. Officer Sullivan also called the Edgewater Police Station to ask that a police blood alcohol kit be brought to Englewood Hospital. Approximately one hour later, Officer Ed Ring arrived at the hospital with the kit.

Nurse Solda went into the room and informed Ravotto that he was going to withdraw a blood sample. Ravotto tried to prevent Solda from withdrawing his blood. Nurse Solda testified that it was critical to keep a patient stable to avoid unnecessary complications that could be caused by movements of the patient during the withdrawal process. Officers Sullivan and Ring then restrained Ravotto on the table, so the blood sample could be taken. Sometime between 8:12 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., Nurse Solda took a total of eight vials of blood, four for the police kit and four for the hospital. Nurse Solda testified that:

The police sample required four samples, two plain red tops and two grey/red tops. The hospital, since he was being treated as a patient, four other tubes were drawn and sent for our hospital analysis a CBC, blood count, alcohol level, PT, PTT ...

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