October 15, 2012
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
DAVID L. FRANCHETTA, JR., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cape May County, Municipal Appeal No. 25-09-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 17, 2011
Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez and Sabatino.
Defendant David L. Franchetta, Jr., appeals his conviction for driving while under the influence of a narcotic or habit-producing drug ("DWI"), N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. His impaired condition was established by toxicology tests, which had been performed after defendant had driven his car off a road and into a house and was then transported to a hospital. The tests confirmed the presence of certain prohibited drugs in defendant's blood stream and urine. Defendant argues that the test results should have been suppressed because the blood and urine samples had been forcibly extracted from him at the hospital. He further argues that the weight of the evidence was insufficient to establish his guilt. We reject these contentions and affirm.
The present case represents defendant's third DWI conviction. See State v. Franchetta, 394 N.J. Super. 200 (App. Div. 2000) (sustaining this defendant's second DWI conviction, which was based upon the confirmed presence of a cocaine metabolite in his urine). His prosecution in this case arose out of a single-car accident in Middle Township on November 28, 2009.
At about 11:00 a.m. on the morning in question, two Middle Township police officers responded to a report of a motor vehicle accident by a house next to Route 47. The officers discovered that defendant had veered off of Route 47 and crashed his car into the house.
Defendant had crawled out of the car. He had glass fragments on his face and an abrasion on his nose. His eyes were bloodshot and glassy. His speech was mumbled and his responses to the officers were slow. He told the officers that he is a diabetic, and that he must have passed out because he had not taken his insulin.
Emergency medical technicians ("EMTs") soon arrived at the scene and attended to defendant. The EMTs did not permit the officers to administer any field sobriety tests. They transported defendant by ambulance to a local hospital emergency room.
While at the hospital, defendant became belligerent and thrashed around, and he resisted the paramedics' efforts to assist him. Because defendant was agitated and aggressive and had indicated he had diabetes, and had undergone a traumatic event, hospital personnel needed to determine quickly his medical condition by taking a blood test. A phlebotomist tried several times, within the course of about forty minutes, to extract a blood sample from defendant but she was unable to connect a needle to a vein. At that point, defendant was given a sedative and then an intravenous line was injected into defendant's neck, through which blood was drawn. A urine sample was also taken from him through a catheter.
Laboratory tests subsequently revealed that defendant's blood contained cocaine, as well as Alprazolam (commonly known as Xanax). Cocaine, Benzoylecgonine (a cocaine metabolite), and Oxycodone were also found in defendant's urine.
Defendant was consequently charged with a violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 in the municipal court of Middle Township. Prior to trial, he moved to suppress the drug test results. He argued that the samples had been illegally extracted from him in a forcible manner, in violation of his privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and under Article I, paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution.
After considering testimony*fn1 by the police officers, an EMT from the accident scene, hospital staff, and defendant at a hearing concerning the extractions, the municipal judge denied the suppression motion. The municipal judge found that the use of restraints to obtain defendant's blood and urine was justified under the circumstances.
With respect to the substance of the charges, the State relied upon testimony from the two police officers, an EMT who had responded to the accident scene and who had accompanied defendant in the ambulance, the phlebotomist who had drawn defendant's blood sample, an emergency room nurse who had observed defendant's belligerent behavior at the hospital, and a State Police toxicologist who confirmed the laboratory results. The toxicologist explained the customary effects of ingesting the particular drugs found in defendant's body, including the "rebound" effect from using cocaine, a stimulant. See Franchetta, supra, 394 N.J. Super. at 205-07 (holding that the "rebound effect" of cocaine ingestion may support a DWI finding).
Defendant took the stand in his own defense, claiming in his testimony that he had been in an innocent "dreamlike" state at the time of the accident because his blood sugar was low. He admitted that he had used cocaine two days prior to the accident but denied taking it that day. He also stated that he had prescriptions for Xanax and Oxycodone, which he likewise admitted taking several days before, but not on the day of the accident. He contended that he had driven his car off the road because he had "over steered."
Upon considering this evidence, the municipal judge found defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of violating N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. The judge sentenced defendant to 180 days in jail, twelve hours in the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center, and various fines and assessments. The judge also suspended defendant's driving privileges for ten years, and ordered the installation of an ignition interlock device when the privileges are restored.
Defendant sought de novo review in the Law Division of both the denial of his pretrial motion to suppress and his DWI conviction. The Law Division judge sustained those determinations, agreeing with the municipal judge that the forcible blood and urine extractions were lawful under these circumstances, and also that the State's evidence had established defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Defendant now appeals to this court, arguing that the denial of his suppression motion should be reversed, that the drug testing results should have been excluded at trial, and that the finding of his guilt should be vacated. He also argues that, regardless of the suppression issue, the State failed to carry its burden of proof to convict him. While the appeal has been pending, defendant's jail sentence has been stayed. We find no merit as to either of defendant's contentions.
With respect to the suppression motion, defendant principally relies upon State v. Ravotto, 169 N.J. 227 (2001), in which the Supreme Court invalidated a DWI conviction because unreasonable force had been used in obtaining a blood sample from that defendant. Ravotto is distinguishable from the present case in several key respects.
First, the defendant in Ravotto had told the police that he would willingly provide them with a sample of his breath, id. at 233, which is not the case here. Moreover, because this DWI prosecution is based upon a driver's impairment from drugs rather than alcohol, a breath test for the presence of alcohol would have been irrelevant here.
Second, defendant's affirmative contention here to the police and medical personnel, stating that he is diabetic, in addition to the fact that he had just suffered a traumatic accident, justified immediate medical scrutiny of his blood samples and blood sugar levels. Apart from ascertaining what may have caused defendant to drive off the road, the extraction and testing of defendant's blood had a medical justification to assure that he would be given proper treatment at the hospital and that his blood sugar level would not be elevated too rapidly.*fn2
Third, the testimony of the police officers and the medical personnel sufficiently explained why defendant reasonably needed to be restrained, in light of the fact that those witnesses uniformly confirmed he was being uncooperative, cursing, and thrashing about. The credibility of their observations is bolstered by the fact that defendant, who had previously been convicted of DWI, would have had reason to be aware that a blood sample could have been potentially incriminating to him, and thus he had a clear motive to resist giving a sample.
Fourth, there is also no proof here, as in Ravotto, ibid., that defendant expressed a fear of hypodermic needles. The medical staff reasonably acted to sedate defendant only after a lengthy and reasonable attempt to take blood from veins in his arm had failed. See also State v. Renshaw, 390 N.J. Super. 456, 470 (App. Div. 2007) (rejecting a defendant's claim that a nurse's forcible extraction of his blood violated his constitutional rights where, among other things, defendant had not expressed a fear of needles).
In sum, as the Law Division correctly recognized, the municipal judge did not err in rejecting defendant's motion to suppress, given the particular circumstances in this record.
Defendant's second argument asserting that his conviction was against the weight of the evidence deserves little comment. It will suffice to say that the positive laboratory results, the underlying circumstances of this one-car accident, and defendant's post-accident behavior amply support the finding of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. See State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 161 (1964) (noting the limited standard of review applied on appeal to a criminal fact-finder's determination of guilt); see also State v. Tamburro, 68 N.J. 414, 421-22 (1975) (delineating the State's burden of proving under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 that a defendant driver has had a substantial deterioration or diminution of his mental or physical capabilities caused by the narcotic, hallucinogenic, or habit-producing drugs detected in his body). Defendant's claim that his accident resulted from the effects of low blood sugar is inconsistent with the objective finding at the hospital that his blood sugar was within the normal range.
The judgment of conviction is affirmed, and the stay of defendant's jail sentence is hereby vacated. Defense counsel shall make arrangements with the Criminal Case Manager and the prosecutor for defendant to report within twenty days of this opinion and begin his custodial time.