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People v. Ripplinger

October 25, 2000

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
LAWRENCE T. RIPPLINGER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 95-CF-516 Honorable James W. Campanella, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Welch

Sometime during the early morning hours of June 18, 1994, Lawrence T. Ripplinger (defendant), while driving on Interstate 64, veered off the interstate, into the median, and rolled the pickup truck he was driving. Michael Sand, a passenger in defendant's vehicle, was ejected and died at the scene. Defendant was charged with reckless homicide. At the trial, evidence demonstrated that defendant was intoxicated at the time of the accident.

On December 4, 1998, following a jury trial in St. Clair County, defendant was found guilty of reckless homicide. The trial court entered a judgment on the verdict and sentenced defendant to four years in the Illinois Department of Corrections or, pending qualification, impact incarceration for 120 to 180 days. Defendant now appeals his conviction and raises the following four issues for our review: (1) whether the trial court erred in admitting into evidence blood and urine samples seized by the Illinois State Police and whether the trial court erred in admitting the results of tests performed on these samples, (2) whether the trial court erred in allowing two Illinois State Police officers to testify as to a conversation they had with defendant while defendant was recovering in the hospital a few days after the accident, (3) whether the trial court erred in prohibiting defendant from presenting evidence or argument as to the proximate cause of the victim's death, and (4) whether the trial court erred in admitting into evidence defendant's hospital medical records and testimony derived from these records that defendant's blood alcohol content exceeded 0.10. For the following reasons, we affirm.

Most of the facts in this case are undisputed. On June 17, 1994, around 10:30 p.m., defendant and Sand, along with two female friends, began drinking at a bar in O'Fallon, Illinois. At the trial, the females testified that defendant was drinking beer while at the bar. Around 2 a.m., defendant and the others left the bar and went to the home of one of the females. At the home, one of the females passed out and the other went to bed. Defendant and Sand then left the home and went to a club in Sauget, Illinois.

Around 4 a.m., while driving on the interstate, defendant lost control of his pickup truck. The pickup truck left the interstate, crossed the median, and rolled. Sand was ejected from the truck and died at the scene. Defendant was rendered unconscious.

Sometime between 4 a.m. and 4:45 a.m., Illinois State Police Officer Mark Sprankle was called to the scene. When he arrived, several ambulance personnel were attending to defendant. Sprankle approached defendant's pickup truck, where defendant was unconscious. Sprankle testified that he got within a few inches of defendant's face and detected a "fairly strong odor of alcoholic beverage" on his breath. Defendant was eventually transported by helicopter to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri.

After completing his examination of the accident scene, Sprankle traveled to Barnes Hospital in Missouri to continue the accident investigation. He arrived at the hospital sometime around 6 a.m. Defendant was unconscious and in the emergency room when Sprankle arrived. While at the hospital, Sprankle issued defendant two citations and requested one of the attending nurses to draw blood from defendant. Jennifer Bredell, a registered nurse, drew two blood samples and a urine sample from defendant at 6:17 a.m. and gave them to Sprankle. This blood was subsequently sent to the Illinois State Police Lab for analysis. At the trial, Cathy Anderson, a forensic scientist with the Illinois State Police, testified that the results of the analysis revealed that at the time the blood was taken, allowing for some biological variability, defendant's blood alcohol content under whole-blood testing was a "conservative" 0.118.

On June 21, 1994, three days after the accident, defendant was still in the hospital in the intensive care unit. Illinois State Police Officers Donald Leach and Terry Klutts traveled to Missouri to ask defendant a few questions about the accident. Leach and Klutts spoke with defendant for three to five minutes. At the trial, Leach and Klutts testified that one of the questions they asked defendant was how much he had to drink the evening before the accident and that defendant replied, "[T]oo much."

Although additional evidence was presented during the trial, we shall present and discuss that evidence when discussing the issue on appeal to which it is relevant. In any event, after hearing all the evidence in this case, the jury returned a verdict of guilty, and the trial court entered a judgment on the verdict. We now turn to the issues raised by defendant on this appeal.

The first issue we shall address is whether the trial court erred when it denied defendant's motion to suppress blood and urine samples seized by Officer Sprankle of the Illinois State Police and the results of tests performed on these samples. As we have just stated, Sprankle traveled to Missouri shortly after the accident and obtained two blood samples from defendant while defendant was unconscious in the emergency room. The samples and test results regarding these samples were admitted into evidence.

Prior to the trial, defendant filed a motion to suppress the blood and urine samples and the test results derived from these samples. Defendant argued before the trial court that this evidence should be suppressed because Sprankle had no authority to "demand" blood from an unconscious defendant at a hospital in Missouri. Defendant argued that such authority is not granted under Illinois law and that Sprankle's actions infringe on Missouri's sovereignty. The trial court denied defendant's motion to suppress and found that Sprankle had authority to obtain the blood samples pursuant to sections 11-501(a), 11-501.2(a), 11-501.4(b), and 11-501.6(b) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/11-501(a), 11-501.2(a), 11-501.4(b), 11-501.6(b) (West 1996)). The trial court rejected defendant's argument that allowing Sprankle to demand and seize the blood and urine samples infringed upon Missouri's sovereignty. Defendant now argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress this evidence.

When reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress, we generally do not disturb its ruling unless its ruling is manifestly erroneous. People v. Ciesler, 304 Ill. App. 3d 465, 470 (1999). However, where there is no dispute as to the witnesses' credibility, we will conduct a de novo review of the legal questions raised by the appeal. Ciesler, 304 Ill. App. 3d at 470. In the instant case, there is no dispute as to the witnesses' credibility or as to the facts that underlie defendant's motion to suppress. Therefore, we shall conduct our review de novo.

On appeal, defendant argues that the trial court's decision is in error because none of the statutory sections relied upon by the trial court grant an Illinois police officer authority to cross state lines and seize blood from an unconscious defendant. Defendant argues that because the Illinois legislature has not specifically granted Sprankle the authority to demand blood from an unconscious defendant outside the borders of the State of Illinois, the blood samples and test results should have been suppressed. We disagree with defendant's arguments.

The basis for the trial court's decision that Officer Sprankle had authority to travel to Missouri and seize the blood from the unconscious defendant is found in section 11-501.1 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS ...


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