Police Had Exigent Circumstances in Nicollet County DWI Death Case

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: criminal law, exigent circumstances.

State of Minnesota v. Derek Lawrence Stavish. MN criminal law, exigent circumstances

In this appeal from Nicollet County, the Minnesota Court of Appeals held:

When a police officer is responsible for procuring a blood sample from an individual who has stated that he was the driver of a vehicle involved in a probable criminal vehicular homicide and who has already been transported to a hospital, exigent circumstances exist that justify the police officer's procuring the blood sample without a search warrant.

Derek Lawrence Stavish was charged in Nicollet County with vehicular homicide after a one-vehicle rollover crash. In addition to the dead body, police found numerous berr cans in and around the truck which the defendant stated he had been driving. When a state patrol officer arrived at the hospital, Stavish smelled of alcohol. The officer asked hospital staff to take a blood sample, which indicated a blood alcohol content of 0.20.

Stavish moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that this was a warrantless search. He argued that no exigent circumstances applied, citing Missouri v. McNeely, 133 S. Ct. 1552 (2013). The district court agreed and granted the motion, and the state appealed this order.

In reversing, the appeals court held that McNeely was distinguishable, since it was a "routine DWI case" rather than a homicide. In addition, the court noted that the accident had taken place in one county, the defendant was hospitalized in another county, and there was the possibility that he would need to be airlifted to a third county.

Given these facts, the Court of Appeals held that there were exigent circumstances, reversed the trial court's ruling, and remanded the case for trial.

No. A14-0771 (Minn. Ct. App. Sept. 2, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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