Wyoming Supreme Court justices say they agree with the lower Teton County courts about a 2018 interference conviction stemming from a man refusing a judge’s warrant for his blood after a suspected DUI traffic stop.
But the defendant in the case still believes his conviction is unjust, and he may take further action to fight it.
“We are disappointed in the result,” Jackson defense attorney Alex Freeburg said Tuesday. “We are considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Freeburg made his case before the Wyoming Supreme Court in November 2019, arguing that his client Christian Garza was peaceful and didn’t resist or try to fight with the arresting deputy.
“Mr. Garza does not dispute the facts in this case,” justices wrote in their order filed March 4, “but instead contends that his respectful refusal to comply with a search warrant is not the type of verbal conduct that can constitute interference with a peace officer.”
But justices said a verbal refusal of an officer’s orders or a judge’s search warrant can still be criminal interference.
“Interference does not require physical resistance or force, but it requires more than mere disagreement with or criticism of a peace officer,” they wrote.
Under Wyoming law, officers can ask a judge to sign a search warrant for a defendant’s blood if they refuse a breath test.
A paragraph in the search warrant presented to Garza in December 2018 reads:
“You are hereby authorized and ordered, in the name of the state of Wyoming … to obtain and remove the above-named defendant’s blood, breath or urine, at the choice of the law enforcement agency executing this warrant,” the warrant states in part.
Garza was charged with interference after refusing the blood draw. He was also charged on suspicion of driving drunk.
A jury later found him guilty of interference. Because he refused the breath and blood tests there was no physical evidence to prove he was driving drunk.
Some defense attorneys say it’s not fair to expect a layperson to understand the process because suspects have a right to refuse the portable breath test in a DUI stop. They also have the right to initially refuse the blood test.
But the Wyoming Supreme Court said that in Garza’s case the deputy clearly explained that he would be charged with an extra crime if he refused the warrant.
“Nonetheless, when the time came to perform the draw, Mr. Garza stated, ‘I’m not allowing you to take any blood from me,’” the order states.
Garza was sentenced to serve 75 days in jail but it was suspended pending the justices’ ruling.
A hearing will likely be set in Teton County Circuit Court regarding the jail sentence, where Freeburg said he will ask the court to reduce.
Garza said during interactions after his traffic stop that he felt discriminated against and didn’t trust the officers or hospital staff, which is addressed in a footnote on the last page of the Wyoming Supreme Court ruling.
“While Mr. Garza made statements that he felt he was being discriminated against and did not trust the officers, the record contains no evidence that he was charged with interference in response to those statements,” the opinion says.