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Snell v. State

Supreme Court of Wyoming

April 9, 2014

SAMUEL P. SNELL, Appellant (Defendant),
THE STATE OF WYOMING, Appellee (Plaintiff)

Appeal from the District Court of Campbell County. The Honorable Thomas W. Rumpke, Judge.

For Appellant: Office of the State Public Defender: Diane Lozano, State Public Defender; Tina N. Olson, Chief Appellate Counsel; Diane E. Courselle, Director, and Grant Smith of the Defender Aid Program, University of Wyoming College of Law. Argument by Mr. Smith.

For Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney General; David L. Delicath, Deputy Attorney General; Jeffrey Pope, Assistant Attorney General; Caitlin Young, Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. Young.

Before KITE, C.J., and HILL, BURKE, DAVIS, and FOX, JJ.


Page 39

DAVIS, Justice.

[¶1] Appellant Samuel P. Snell was arrested and charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol. He filed a motion to suppress the results of his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test, claiming that the affidavit supporting the search warrant authorizing his blood to be taken for testing failed to demonstrate probable cause. The motion was denied, and Appellant was subsequently convicted by a jury of driving with a BAC of at least 0.08% for a fourth or subsequent time in ten years, a felony. He now challenges the district court's denial of the motion to suppress as well as the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction. We find that the affidavit in support of the search warrant is deficient because it contains bare conclusions. Consequently, we must hold that the district court erred in denying Appellant's motion to suppress the results of his BAC test. We reverse.


[¶2] The dispositive question before us is the sufficiency of the affidavit that resulted in the issuance of a search warrant authorizing Appellant's blood to be taken for testing. For that reason, we restate the controlling issue as follows:[1]

Did the affidavit supporting the application for a warrant to draw Appellant's blood contain sufficient information for a judicial officer to make an independent

Page 40

judgment that there was probable cause that Appellant had been driving while intoxicated?


[¶3] In the early evening hours of July 7, 2012, Mr. Svalina was working in his yard in rural Campbell County when he observed a pick-up truck traveling down the county road near his home at a high rate of speed, lose control, and roll over. From approximately 275 yards away from the wrecked vehicle, he saw someone crawl out of the passenger window and run from the scene. Mr. Svalina could not identify the fleeing person at that distance.

[¶4] While her husband was outside surveying the accident scene, Mrs. Svalina called law enforcement to report the incident, and Campbell County sheriff's deputies arrived shortly thereafter. Mr. Svalina described what he had seen of the driver and accident to the officers. After securing the scene and determining that the individual who ran from the scene was the only occupant of the vehicle, the deputies began to search for the driver who had fled.[2] They checked the truck's license plate and then went to the home of the owner, Cynthia Snell, who lived roughly a mile and a half away.

[¶5] Ms. Snell believed that the truck was parked in her garage, but told officers that her son, the Appellant, could have taken it, even though he was only permitted to operate vehicles with an ignition interlock device, which the truck did not have.[3] Officers continued to look for the driver and eventually called a canine unit to assist. Approximately an hour into the search (and about two hours after the accident), an officer spotted Appellant near Ms. Snell's residence. He matched the description Mr. Svalina had given. The investigating officer, Deputy Gibson of the Campbell County Sheriff's Department, observed that Appellant smelled strongly of alcohol, slurred his speech, had torn clothing, and had fresh cuts and blood on his face and arms. Appellant denied driving the truck, explaining that his torn clothes and injuries had instead resulted from a fall while he was tending horses.

[¶6] Appellant consented to field sobriety tests, but he was unable to complete two of the tests and failed the remaining three. Consequently, he was arrested and taken to the Campbell County detention center.[4] There he was provided with an explanation of Wyoming's implied consent laws and asked to submit to a breathalyzer test. He refused.

[¶7] Deputy Gibson sought and obtained a search and seizure warrant to obtain Appellant's blood, breath and/or urine for testing to determine his alcohol concentration. Approximately four hours after the accident, Appellant's blood was drawn and tested as permitted by the ...

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