Crime

Appeals Court: Blood sample of alleged drunk driver blamed for deadly crash can be used in court

Appeals Court: Joel Garcia's blood...

EL PASO, Texas - The Court of Appeals for the Eight District of Texas has ruled prosecutors will be able to use the results of a blood test when prosecuting Joel Garcia, the man accused of driving drunk and killing three people.

Garcia, currently out on bond, was charged with three counts of Intoxicated Manslaughter and a single count of Possession of Cocaine (less than a gram). His blood alcohol content was allegedly three times the legal limit.

Garcia allegedly drove drunk Christmas Eve 2014 and crashed into a car, killing brothers Joshua and Isaiah Deal and Shannon Del Rio. The brothers were driving from their father's house to their mother's house when they were struck by Garcia’s car at the intersection of Joe Battle and Vista Del Sol.

Garcia, who fought for months to have his bond reduced, was released in November 2015. He was set to go to trial for the deadly crash when the judge threw out the blood test as evidence. The decision was made after El Paso Police officers admitted to drawing Garcia's blood without a warrant right before Garcia was to receive medication.

Shortly before he was released, Garcia pleaded guilty to a previous DWI charged and fulfilled his sentence: time served. With that out of the way, he posted bond for the Intoxicated Manslaughter charges.

According to judgment obtained by ABC-7, Garcia lied to officers about being the driver of the Camaro that impacted the Deal brother's vehicle. A witness at the scene told police Garcia was the driver of the Camaro.

The plan was to transport Garcia to the Pebble Hills Regional Command Center, but EMS crews arrived and advised police they needed to take Garcia to the hospital because of the “severity of his injuries.”

At the hospital, police officers obtained a sample of Garcia's blood, without a warrant, when they learned nurses were about to administer IV fluid that could alter the blood alcohol content in Garcia's blood.

In its ruling, the eight court of appeals wrote "a blood draw generally requires a search warrant, unless a 'recognized exception' to the warrant requirement applies ... one such exigent circumstance is preventing the destruction of evidence or contraband.”

The court further states, “In DWI cases, the evidence that is at risk of destruction is a suspect’s blood alcohol content ... as such, the Supreme Court has held that the warrantless collection of blood from a DWI suspect does not violate the Fourt Amendment in cases when the officer ‘might reasonably have believed that he was confronted with an emergency, in which the delay necessary to obtain a warrant threatened ‘the destruction of evidence.’”

The appeals court cited several supreme court cases in its opinion.

“Garcia’s accident resulted in three deaths ... Inducing saline or other medication would likely compromise the blood sample ... For these reasons, we sustain the State’s sole point and reverse and remand for trial,” the appeals court stated.

A trial date for Garcia has not been set.

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