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Supreme Court says blood draw in Fischer case was constitutional

The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled that a blood draw aiding in the conviction of a man who killed two U.S. Fish and Wildlife workers was constitutional.

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. Marnette was arguing that a blood draw in the case of Ronald Fischer was constitutional, leading to the conviction of Fischer for the death of two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service workers. (Jake Shama/Republic)

The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled that a blood draw aiding in the conviction of a man who killed two U.S. Fish and Wildlife workers was constitutional.

Ronald Fischer Jr., who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for two counts of vehicular homicide, appealed a circuit court decision to the South Dakota Supreme Court. Fischer argued that a hospital blood draw occurring after a vehicle crash and later proving he was driving under the influence of alcohol was a violation of his rights, and that evidence should not be allowed in court.

The case was argued to the Supreme Court on Jan. 13. The judges filed their opinion Wednesday, affirming the blood draw was legitimate evidence.

“Blood drawn by hospital personnel for medical purposes is not subject to Fourth Amendment protection, and therefore suppression of the draw was not warranted,” the judges concluded.

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

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On the night of July 8, 2013, Fischer failed to stop at a T-intersection of two highways in Pickstown. He drove through the intersection and into the parking lot of the Dakota Inn Hotel, and then he struck a boat and two U.S. Fish and Wildlife workers in the parking lot. Fischer’s pick-up also struck a pick-up and another vehicle. Maegan Spindler, 25, of Cazenovia, New York, and Dr. Rob Klumb, 46, of Pierre, were killed in the crash.

Gregg and Susan Spindler, parents of Maegan Spindler, issued a nearly two-page statement Thursday morning following the Supreme Court’s decision. Here is an excerpt from the statement:

“The Spindler family welcomes the upholding of the conviction of Ronald Ray Fischer, Jr. for vehicular homicide in the death of our daughter 31 months ago. We were appalled that Fischer wanted to avoid any responsibility for killing two people. It has been a very difficult time for our family, losing our daughter in such a horrific, violent manner, the protracted trial, the failure of Judge Bruce Anderson to convict Fischer of the most serious charge of first-degree manslaughter and the insulting farce of Fischer’s taxpayer-financed appeal to escape any responsibility of killing two people.”

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 officers went above and beyond in their handling of the crime scene.

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.

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.

“Ronald Fischer’s decision to drive drunk was a senseless act that has taken two innocent lives causing a tremendous loss for both families. I commend the first responders for their efforts under difficult circumstances, and my thoughts remain with the Klumb and Spindler families,” South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said in a statement issued Thursday.

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Stricter penalties Charges of manslaughter were dismissed against Fischer, but he was convicted of two counts of vehicular homicide, class 3 felonies, and sentenced to 30 years in prison, 15 years for each count.

But because vehicular homicide is not a "crime of violence," Fischer will be eligible for parole in nine years, having served only four-and-a-half years per crime, which is 30 percent of the total sentence.

In January, Jackley issued a proposal for the current legislative session to include stricter sentences for vehicular homicide convictions. Details of the proposed legislation were unknown until Thursday morning following the Supreme Court’s decision on the Fischer case.

The new aggravated vehicular homicide law, according to the Attorney General’s Office, is aimed to provide both an enhanced maximum penalty of up to 25 years and a violent crime designation for an increased parole designation of 50 percent. It is aimed at capturing the following three categories of homicide offenders:

1. People with repeat DUIs of two or more convictions now entering the felony stage;

2. People previously convicted of vehicular homicide or vehicular battery; or

3. People who have a BAC of .17 percent or greater.

The Attorney General’s proposed legislation is an amendment to Senate Bill 44. The proposed amendment is anticipated to be heard at 8 a.m. Feb. 18  in Senate Judiciary.

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The number of vehicular homicide convictions in South Dakota has remained relatively steady over the past five years, with four in 2015, four in 2014, eight in 2013, four in 2012 and five in 2011.

“It is time to make South Dakota streets safer and to hold those that take innocent life by their drunken actions more accountable. I commend the governor, our state’s attorneys and legislators for working with me toward implementing an aggravated vehicular homicide law to protect South Dakota,” Jackley said.

Related Topics: CRIME
Luke Hagen was promoted to editor of the Mitchell Republic in 2014. He has worked for the newspaper since 2008 and has covered sports, outdoors, education, features and breaking news. He can be reached at lhagen@mitchellrepublic.com.
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