A defense attorney for a man accused of killing three people while driving drunk wants a judge to throw out a key piece of evidence against her client.
A blood draw showing Daniel K. Riggs, 25, was legally intoxicated when he plowed into a Saturn sedan is not admissible because the officer supervising the test did not have probable cause to conduct it, according to defense attorney Susanne Gustin-Furgis.Felony homicide charges against Riggs may be reduced to misdemeanors if 3rd District Judge Anne M. Stirba agrees with the argument.
Riggs faces three counts of automobile homicide, a second-degree felony, for the November 1995 deaths of Michael Lambrou, 18; Lonnie James, 18; and Kevin Smithson, 20. He also is charged with receiving a stolen motor vehicle, also a second-degree felony.
If convicted, Riggs could face four consecutive terms of one to 15 years in prison.
However, if the judge throws out the blood-test results, it would greatly weaken the state's case since prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was legally drunk when the accident occurred.
Lambrou and James were driving home from watching videos at a friend's house in the early morning of Nov. 15 when Riggs allegedly hit them at the intersection of 2200 West and 5400 South. Smithson was a passenger in Rigg's truck.
The deadly chain of events began when Utah Highway Patrol trooper Dave Bairett noticed the speeding Ford Ranger and called in the vehicle's license plate, which came back to another car, indicating the truck was stolen.
The trooper then switched on his cruiser's flashing lights and began following the truck, which reached speeds of 75 mph before it ran the intersection and slammed into the Saturn carrying Lambrou and James.
The force of impact was so great that both vehicles flew from the roadway and into the parking lot of an adjacent strip mall. The Saturn was partially embedded in a flower shop in the mall.
Bairett and two other officers testified they noticed an odor of alcohol about Riggs, who admitted while he was pinned under the truck that he had been driving.
The officers subsequently ordered another deputy - who was on scene less than a minute - to supervise Rigg's blood draw at the hospital.
Gustin-Furgis argued Friday that the supervising officer, identified by case law as the "searching officer," had no probable cause to initiate the blood test.
He simply wasn't on scene long enough to gather cause for himself, and officers who might have had probable cause didn't communicate it to him, she said.
Probable cause is one of a few exceptions under constitutional law that allows police to search a vehicle and/or person during or subsequent to a traffic stop. A blood draw is traditionally considered a search of a person.
"(The supervising deputy) can rely on information from other officers, but it must be given to him, and it wasn't in this case," Gustin-Furgis said. "(The deputy) was only on scene for one minute, he didn't even talk to Danny Riggs . . . he didn't even know Riggs caused the accident."
Gustin-Furgis pointed to a 1986 Utah Supreme Court case that allows "searching officers" to rely on information from other officers to establish probable cause. The case implies, of course, that a searching officer actually receives information from other officers before conducting the search.
Judge Stirba had not read the case and promised to do so before ruling sometime next week. Rigg's trial is scheduled to begin May 28.