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Ronald Fischer's blood draw argued at SD Supreme Court

PIERRE--Law enforcement infringed on Ronald Fischer's constitutional rights after taking a blood draw without a warrant, Fischer's attorney said before the South Dakota Supreme Court on Wednesday at the South Dakota State Capitol building in Pierre.

Assistant Attorney General Kelly Marnette, left, delivers oral arguments to S.D. Supreme Court Justice Glen Severson, center, and Chief Justice David Gilbertson, right, as well as Supreme Court justices Steven Zinter and Lori Wilbur and Circuit Court Judge Jon Sogn, not pictured. (Jake Shama/Republic)
Assistant Attorney General Kelly Marnette, left, delivers oral arguments to S.D. Supreme Court Justice Glen Severson, center, and Chief Justice David Gilbertson, right, as well as Supreme Court justices Steven Zinter and Lori Wilbur and Circuit Court Judge Jon Sogn, not pictured. (Jake Shama/Republic)

PIERRE-Law enforcement infringed on Ronald Fischer's constitutional rights after taking a blood draw without a warrant, Fischer's attorney said before the South Dakota Supreme Court on Wednesday at the South Dakota State Capitol building in Pierre.

Tim Whalen, Fischer's attorney, delivered oral arguments in favor of appealing a circuit court's decision not to suppress blood samples that were taken without a warrant. The results were used in a trial that led to Fischer's conviction of vehicular homicide. Assistant Attorney General Kelly Marnette represented the state and countered that law enforcement did nothing wrong, and went above and beyond in their handling of the crime scene.

Fischer, 31, of Lake Andes, was convicted on two counts of vehicular homicide in February 2015 and sentenced to 30 years in prison, stemming from an incident in July 2013 when Fischer drove a vehicle under the influence of alcohol and killed Maegan Spindler, 25, of Cazenovia, New York, and Dr. Robert Klumb, 46, of Pierre.

Fischer's blood-alcohol content was 0.232 percent, according to court documents. The legal limit to drive in South Dakota is 0.08 percent.

However, law enforcement obtained the blood sample from Wagner Community Memorial Hospital, which was treating Fischer after the crash, instead of obtaining a search warrant.

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"The most paramount important aspect of this case and of any criminal case are the constitutional rights that we all hold so dear in our heart for the defendant," Whalen said.

A warrant is usually required under the U.S. Constitution except in the presence of "exigent circumstances," which means law enforcement have probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and there is no time to obtain a warrant.

"The officers' neglect and the officers' inability to process the scene efficiently and appropriately under these circumstances created the exigency," Whalen said.

Whalen said officers at the crash knew Fischer would be charged with DUI or vehicular homicide based on the gruesome appearance of the scene, so they took more photos than necessary to be used as evidence. He said the officers knew they would eventually acquire the blood sample from the hospital and so chose not to get a warrant.

"They were gathering evidence and preparing for prosecution more so than rendering assistance to the EMTs," Whalen said. "There's only so many pictures you need to take."

Instead, Whalen said they should have focused on Fischer, who was removed from the scene and would soon be taken to Sioux Falls by helicopter, rather than photographing elements of the crime scene that would remain in place.

"The officers picked their poison. They have to live with it," Whalen said.

Marnette represented the state and defended the officers' actions in a situation that many, including Charles Mix Sheriff Randy Thaler, described as "one of the worst crime scenes" they had been involved in.

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"Law enforcement went above and beyond what could be expected of law enforcement. You look at the crime scene, you look at what they came upon - the fact that they were able to still execute their duties is amazing," Marnette said.

Marnette condemned Whalen's insinuation that law enforcement, and possibly the doctor who drew the sample, did anything to infringe on Fischer's Fourth Amendment rights, which protects citizens from "unreasonable searches and seizures."

"The argument that there is some collusion between law enforcement and the doctor, that we're going to violate someone's constitutional rights, is ludicrous," Marnette said.

"This case is the most clear case of exigent circumstances that I hope this court ever has to see. The actions of the defendant himself caused the exigent circumstances," she said.

The Supreme Court justices will consider the arguments and make a determination in the near future.

Related Topics: U.S. SUPREME COURTCRIME
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