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Date: 06-12-2018

Case Style:

State of Nebraska v. Steven J. Hatfield

Case Number: 300 Neb. 152

Judge: Per Curiam

Court: Nebraska Supreme Court

Plaintiff's Attorney: Douglas J. Peterson, Attorney General, and Nathan A. Liss

Defendant's Attorney: Steven J. Mercure

Description:

On an early morning in December 2014, two deputies
with the Gage County Sheriff’s Department stopped Hatfield’s
vehicle after radar detected that it had been speeding. When a
deputy asked Hatfield for his license and registration, Hatfield
was slow to respond and would not make eye contact. Both
deputies detected an odor of alcohol coming from the vehicle,
although they were unable to determine whether the odor
came from Hatfield or one of his three passengers. Upon
inquiry, Hatfield confirmed that he had been drinking alcohol.
And during field sobriety tests, Hatfield showed signs
of impairment during one of the tests. One of the deputies
arrested Hatfield for DUI and transported him to a hospital for
a blood draw.
Prior to the blood draw, the arresting deputy read Hatfield
the “Post Arrest Chemical Test Advisement” form. The form
advised Hatfield that he was under arrest for DUI, that he was
required by law to submit to a chemical test of his blood for
alcohol content, and that refusal to submit to the test was a
separate criminal charge. Hatfield signed the form. According
to the nurse who drew the blood sample from Hatfield, he was
“cooperative throughout the blood draw process.” The blood
test revealed that Hatfield had an alcohol concentration above
the legal limit.
The State charged Hatfield with DUI, and a jury convicted
him of the offense. After the county court held an enhancement
hearing and determined that this conviction was Hatfield’s second
DUI offense, the court imposed a sentence.
Hatfield appealed his conviction to the district court. He
alleged that the county court erred by receiving certain evidence
and by failing to dismiss due to insufficient evidence.
After those issues had been briefed, the U.S. Supreme Court
released its opinion in Birchfield2 and Hatfield requested that
2 Id.
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300 Nebraska Reports
STATE v. HATFIELD
Cite as 300 Neb. 152
the district court consider that decision. Based on Birchfield,
the court found that Hatfield’s warrantless blood draw was
unlawful and inadmissible. The court therefore reversed
Hatfield’s conviction and remanded the matter for a new trial.
The court did not consider the errors assigned by Hatfield. Nor
did it consider whether Hatfield’s consent to the blood test was
voluntary or whether the good faith exception to the exclusionary
rule applied.
The State appealed, and we moved the case to our docket.3
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR
The State assigns that the district court erred by vacating
Hatfield’s DUI conviction without considering whether his
blood draw was voluntary or whether the good faith exception
to the exclusionary rule applied.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
[1-3] In an appeal of a criminal case from the county court,
the district court acts as an intermediate court of appeals, and
its review is limited to an examination of the record for error
or abuse of discretion.4 Both the district court and a higher
appellate court generally review appeals from the county court
for error appearing on the record.5 When reviewing a judgment
for errors appearing on the record, an appellate court’s
inquiry is whether the decision conforms to the law, is supported
by competent evidence, and is neither arbitrary, capricious,
nor unreasonable.6
[4,5] Application of the good faith exception to the exclusionary
rule is a question of law.7 On a question of law,
3 See Neb. Rev. Stat. § 24-1106 (Reissue 2016).
4 State v. Thalken, 299 Neb. 857, ___ N.W.2d ___ (2018).
5 Id.
6 Id.
7 State v. Hoerle, 297 Neb. 840, 901 N.W.2d 327 (2017), cert. denied 2018
WL 2186231, 86 U.S.L.W. 3571 (U.S. May 14, 2018).
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STATE v. HATFIELD
Cite as 300 Neb. 152
an appellate court reaches a conclusion independent of the
court below.8
ANALYSIS
[6] Before addressing the merits, we observe that the State
brought this appeal. Absent specific statutory authorization,
the State generally has no right to appeal an adverse ruling in
a criminal case.9 But a statutory exception to the general rule
authorizes a prosecuting attorney to request appellate review
of an adverse ruling by a district court.10 We have interpreted
§ 29-2315.01 to allow exception proceedings taken from the
district court sitting as an intermediate court of appeal.11 We
now turn to the arguments advanced in the State’s appeal.
Good Faith Exception
The State assigns that the district court erred in vacating
Hatfield’s conviction without considering two matters. It contends
that the court should have determined whether the blood
draw was voluntary or whether the good faith exception to the
exclusionary rule applied. Because we can dispose of the merits
of the appeal on the basis of the good faith exception, we
need not make a determination as to the voluntariness of the
blood draw.
[7-9] The exclusionary rule is a judicially created remedy
that generally prohibits the use of evidence obtained in violation
of a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights.12 Its purpose
is to deter police misconduct.13 Because the exclusionary rule
should not be applied to objectively reasonable law enforcement
activity, the U.S. Supreme Court created a good faith
8 Id.
9 State v. Thalken, supra note 4.
10 See Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-2315.01 (Reissue 2016).
11 See State v. Thalken, supra note 4.
12 See State v. Tyler, 291 Neb. 920, 870 N.W.2d 119 (2015).
13 See State v. Hill, 288 Neb. 767, 851 N.W.2d 670 (2014).
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Cite as 300 Neb. 152
exception to the rule.14 The Birchfield decision did not directly
address whether the good faith exception should apply where
consent to a blood test is given following an incorrect advisement
that refusing such a test is a crime.
[10] In State v. Hoerle,15 we concluded that the good faith
exception to the exclusionary rule applied to a warrantless
blood draw carried out prior to the Birchfield decision. We
explained that a court may decline to apply the exclusionary
rule when evidence is obtained pursuant to an officer’s objectively
reasonable reliance on a law that is not clearly unconstitutional
at the time. And we discerned no deterrent value in
suppressing the results of the blood test.
We adhere to our reasoning in Hoerle. Here, as in Hoerle,
the blood draw was obtained in accordance with our implied
consent statute, which was not clearly unconstitutional at the
time of Hatfield’s December 2014 arrest. Consistent with
Hoerle, we conclude that the good faith exception applies to
warrantless pre-Birchfield blood draws in cases brought both
on direct appeal and in error proceedings under § 29-2315.01.
Because the good faith exception applies, the district court
erred in reversing Hatfield’s conviction.
Effect of Ruling
As we noted at the outset of the analysis, the State brought
this appeal pursuant to § 29-2315.01. Because it was brought
as an exception proceeding, Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-2316 (Reissue
2016) applies. Section 29-2316 states in part that “[t]he judgment
of the court in any action taken pursuant to section
29-2315.01 shall not be reversed nor in any manner affected
when the defendant in the trial court has been placed legally in
jeopardy . . . .”
[11] In a criminal case, § 29-2316 does not prohibit a
higher appellate court from reversing a district court’s decision
14 State v. Hoerle, supra note 7.
15 See id.
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STATE v. HATFIELD
Cite as 300 Neb. 152
where the district court was acting as an intermediate appellate
court. We recently declared that “where the matter is brought
to us by an exception proceeding from the district court sitting
as an appellate court, § 29-2316 does not limit the relief
we can order, because the defendant was not placed legally
in jeopardy in that court.”16 We explained that “in a criminal
case where the district court is sitting as an appellate court in
an appeal brought by the defendant, the defendant . . . effectively
arrived at the district court on appeal already cloaked in
jeopardy, having been placed legally in jeopardy by the county
court.”17 Because § 29-2316 does not limit the relief we can
order, we reverse the ruling of the district court.

Outcome: We conclude that the good faith exception to the exclusionary
rule applied to the pre-Birchfield warrantless blood draw
in this case. Because the result of the blood test was admissible,
the district court, sitting as an appellate court, erred in
reversing Hatfield’s conviction and vacating his sentence. We
therefore sustain the State’s exception. And because § 29-2316
does not constrain us from granting relief, we reverse the district
court’s order and remand the cause to the district court for
further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion. Upon
remand, the district court may consider the errors originally
assigned by Hatfield.

Plaintiff's Experts:

Defendant's Experts:

Comments:



 
 
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