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Hamrick v. State

Supreme Court of South Carolina

May 15, 2019

Daniel Hamrick, Petitioner,
State of South Carolina, Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2015-002164

          Heard January 10, 2019

          Appeal from Charleston County Deadra L. Jefferson, Trial Court Judge Larry B. Hyman Jr., Post-Conviction Relief Judge


          Appellate Defenders Jennifer Ellis Roberts and David Alexander, of Columbia, for Petitioner.

          Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General William M. Blitch Jr., of Columbia, for Respondent.

          FEW JUSTICE

         This is a belated appeal of Daniel Hamrick's conviction for felony driving under the influence resulting in great bodily injury. Hamrick argues the trial court erred in (1) denying his motion to suppress test results from blood drawn without a search warrant, (2) admitting the blood test results into evidence despite a violation of the three-hour statutory time limit for drawing blood, (3) permitting a police officer to give opinion testimony on accident reconstruction, and (4) excluding from evidence a video recording of an experiment conducted by Hamrick's expert in accident reconstruction. We find the trial court erred in admitting the officer's opinion testimony. We reverse and remand to the court of general sessions for a new trial.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         Around 3:20 a.m. on November 14, 2011, Daniel Hamrick struck Ahmed Garland- a road construction worker-while driving on U.S. Highway 17 in the town of Mount Pleasant. Garland suffered permanent brain injuries as a result. The State contends Hamrick struck Garland while Garland was stepping off of a paving machine located behind a row of cones delineating the construction zone from the designated lane of travel. Hamrick concedes he struck Garland, but contends it happened in the lane of travel.

         Within five minutes of the incident, Officer Daniel Eckert arrived at the scene and administered first aid to Garland. Emergency medical service professionals arrived at the scene less than ten minutes later, and Officer Eckert began interviewing Hamrick and other witnesses. Several witnesses claimed to smell alcohol on Hamrick's breath, and Hamrick admitted he drank one beer earlier in the morning. Officer Eckert asked Hamrick to perform field sobriety tests, but Hamrick refused. At 3:40 a.m., Officer Eckert informed Hamrick he was not free to leave. He instructed Hamrick to remain by the front of Officer Eckert's car.

         At 4:08 a.m., Officer Andrew Harris-the lead investigator-arrived. Officer Harris interrogated Hamrick and instructed him to perform sobriety tests. Hamrick performed the tests, which indicated to Officer Harris that Hamrick was intoxicated. At 4:40 a.m., Officer Harris formally placed Hamrick under arrest, handcuffed him, administered Miranda warnings to him, and directed officers to transport Hamrick to the Mount Pleasant police station for a breathalyzer test.

         When Hamrick arrived at the police station, the breathalyzer machine malfunctioned. After the machine became operational, Hamrick refused to take a breathalyzer test. Officers then took Hamrick to East Cooper Hospital, where at 6:55 a.m., they told Hamrick he was required to provide a blood sample pursuant to the mandatory blood testing provision of subsection 56-5-2946(A) of the South Carolina Code (2018), and the implied consent provision of subsection 56-5-2950(A) of the South Carolina Code (2018). The officers did not seek a search warrant before drawing Hamrick's blood. Hamrick's blood alcohol concentration measured .113 percent.

         Prior to his 2013 trial, Hamrick filed a written motion to suppress the results of his blood test. He argued the warrantless search the police conducted in drawing his blood violated his Fourth Amendment rights because no exigency existed, and there was no other applicable exception to the warrant requirement. He relied on Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U.S. 141, 133 S.Ct. 1552, 185 L.Ed.2d 696 (2013), decided six months earlier, in which the Supreme Court of the United States held "the natural metabolization of alcohol in the bloodstream [does not] present[] a per se exigency that justifies an exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement for nonconsensual blood testing." 569 U.S. at 145, 133 S.Ct. at 1556, 185 L.Ed.2d at 702; see also 569 U.S. at 148, 133 S.Ct. at 1558, 185 L.Ed.2d at 704 (restating that "a blood sample . . . drawn from a defendant suspected of driving while under the influence of alcohol" is a search under the Fourth Amendment (citing and quoting Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 767, 86 S.Ct. 1826, 1834, 16 L.Ed.2d 908, 919 (1966))). The trial court conducted a hearing and considered all of the applicable circumstances, as it was required to do under Schmerber and McNeely. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court found the exigent circumstances exception excused the warrant requirement on the unique facts presented, and denied the motion to suppress. The court did not address whether the implied consent provision of subsection 56-5-2950(A) excused the warrant requirement.

         As an alternative ground for excluding the blood test results from trial, Hamrick argued his blood was not drawn within three hours of Hamrick's arrest as mandated by subsection 56-5-2950(A), which states blood samples "must be collected within three hours of the arrest." Hamrick maintained he was under arrest by 3:40 a.m., when he refused to perform field sobriety tests and Officer Eckert informed him he was not free to leave. The trial court rejected this argument and ruled Hamrick was not under arrest until Officer Harris placed Hamrick in handcuffs and administered Miranda warnings at 4:40 a.m.

         During trial, Officer Harris testified he documented the point of impact inside the construction zone, as opposed to inside the designated lane of travel. Woodrow Poplin, a mechanical and civil engineer, testified as an expert witness for Hamrick. Poplin testified Officer Harris's reported point of impact was incorrect because Hamrick's car could not have reached that point without knocking over the cones separating the lane of travel from the construction zone, or without hitting the paving machine. Poplin testified, in his opinion, the collision occurred inside the designated lane of travel. Hamrick offered into evidence a video of an experiment Poplin conducted to determine whether it was possible for Hamrick's car to hit Garland where Officer Harris testified the collision occurred without also hitting the cones or the paving machine. The trial court permitted Poplin to testify about the experiment, but excluded the video from evidence.

         The jury found Hamrick guilty of felony driving under the influence resulting in great bodily injury.[1] The trial court sentenced Hamrick to fifteen years in prison. Hamrick's trial counsel failed to appeal, and Hamrick filed a post-conviction relief application alleging counsel was ineffective for not doing so. The post-conviction relief court agreed, and granted Hamrick a belated direct appeal pursuant to White v. State, 263 S.C. 110, 208 S.E.2d 35 (1974). As White requires,[2] Hamrick filed a petition for a writ of certiorari asking this Court to consider the belated appeal. We transferred the petition to the court of appeals pursuant to Rule 243(1) of the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules. The court of appeals granted certiorari to consider Hamrick's appeal. The court of appeals then transferred the appeal to this Court pursuant to Rules 203(d)(1)(A)(ii) and 204(a) of the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules.[3]

         II. Analysis

         We begin with the trial court's error in permitting Officer Harris to give opinion testimony on the subject of accident reconstruction. This error requires a new trial. We will then address the admissibility of the video of Poplin's experiment and Hamrick's challenges to the admissibility of his blood test results, as those issues will necessarily arise on remand.

         A. Officer ...

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