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Court of Criminal Appeals: Alleged drunk driver’s blood sample cannot be used as evidence

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has reversed the decision of a state appeals court, ruling prosecutors will not be able to submit a blood draw sample as evidence in the trial of an alleged drunk driver blamed for the deaths of three people.

Joel Garcia, charged with three counts of intoxication manslaughter, told police he drank at least five beers and two shots prior to the collision that killed three people, a criminal complaint obtained by ABC-7 at the time states. Court documents state his blood alcohol content was .268, more than three times the legal limit. The court documents also states the “analysis detected the presence of Benzoylecgonine, a cocaine metabolite, in Garcia’s blood.”

The State of Texas appealed the decision of a trial judge, who ruled police violated Garcia’s civil rights when they obtained a blood sample without a warrant. When an appeals court ruled in favor of state prosecutors, Garcia appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which reversed the lower court’s decision on December 12, 2018.

While the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed the Fourth Amendment permits a law enforcement officer “to take all reasonable measures, up to and including initiating a warrantless blood draw, to preserve the integrity of important evidence,” the court eventually ruled “the trial judge’s extensive, record supporting findings foreclose any conclusion that this was an objectively reasonable concern in this case.”

In its decision, the Court of Criminal Appeals states the officers were misinformed about Garcia’s treatment at the emergency room when they made the decision to draw blood without a warrant.


At about 1:46 a.m. on Christmas Eve 2014, two witnesses saw a Camaro pass them on the right lane and enter the intersection at Joe Battle and Vista Del Sol, running the red light. Garcia, a 24-year-old professional boxer at the time, was driving the Camaro with his passenger, Enrique Gaucin. A Pontiac Grand Am, driven by Joshua Deal, entered the intersection on its green light and was struck by the Camaro on the driver side. Also in the Grand Am were front seat passenger Shannon Del Rio and back seat passenger Isaiah Deal.

One of the witnesses saw Gaucin get out of the Camaro on his side of the car, then dragging the unconscious Garcia away from the car, according to the affidavit. The witness told police Garcia “kept asking about his car and wanted to leave the scene,” according to the affidavit.

Joshua Deal and Shannon Del Rio were still inside the vehicle after the crash and “engulfed in flames, resulting in their death at the scene,” according to the affidavit. Isaiah Deal was ejected from the vehicle. He was transported to Del So Medical Center where he died from his injuries.

Garcia told an officer at the scene he was the driver of the Camaro but then refused to give a blood sample to police. A blood sample was still taken, despite police not having a warrant to take the sample, because the officers believed nurses were about to administer I.V. fluid that would dilute the blood alcohol concentration in Garcia’s blood. Garcia then gave a statement to police in which he said he had at least five beers and two shots before the crash but did not remember being the driver, the criminal complaint states.

Garcia was previously arrested for DWI earlier in 2014. He was arrested for DWI with blood alcohol content greater than or equal to .15 in April 2014. Garcia also was arrested on Feb. 14, 2010 for minor in possession of alcohol and having an open alcohol container in a vehicle. He was granted a program deferral in the case minor in possession of alcohol case but court records do not show what happened in the open container case.


The lead investigative officer at the scene of the deadly wreck is identified in court documents as Andres Rodriguez. When Joel Garcia allegedly refused to provide a breath or blood sample at the scene of the wreck, officer Rodriguez left the scene to begin preparing a search warrant. Rodriguez learned paramedics were transporting Garcia to Del Sol Hospital and instruction officer Steven Torres to accompany Garcia to the hospital.

Officer Torres and Garcia arrived at Del Sol Hospital at 3:01 a.m. According to court documents, while at the hospital, officer Torres made contact with officer Raul Lom, a recently retired El Paso Police officer working security at Del Sol on the morning of the crash. Lom assisted Torres by relaying information over the phone to officer Rodriguez, still preparing the search warrant.

Back at the emergency room, the court document states, Dr. Gary Kavonian observed Garcia to be “uncooperative.” The doctor “remembered Garcia combatively telling nurses” that he did not want the I.V. fluid. As a result, Kavonian ordered the medical staff not to place an I.V. on Garcia and they complied. “Ultimately, Garcia never received an I.V. while at Del Sol Hospital,” the court document states.

Officer Lom, the court document states, testified he was standing too far from Kavonian to hear him cancel the I.V. Lom is quoted in the document as stating he “was very certain that at any moment Garcia would be injected with an I.V.” Lom allegedly testified he could see a nurse holding an I.V. bag in front of Garcia and “Garcia shaking his head in the negative.”

Officer Torres, the court document states, was standing “five to six feet” away from Garcia. Torres “was close enough to the medical personnel to at least hear that they were having multiple conversations … but just like Lom, Torres claimed he never heard Kavonian tell the nurse to hold off on the I.V.,” the Criminal Court of Appeals wrote in the court document.

Lom and Torres testified they believed “exigent circumstances” justified their “immediate, warrantless actions” to obtain samples of Garcia’s blood.

“Dealing with the fact-bound intricacies of every case as it comes to us may be a ‘tedious, hair splitting’ endeavor; it may occasionally produce ‘bottom line’ outcomes that we find unpalatable. But is our duty as judges to earnestly grapple with the facts as settled in the courts of law – and, having done so, to let the chips fall where they may,” the Criminal Court of Appeals wrote in its conclusion ruling in Garcia’s favor.

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