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More SCOTUS: Mitchell v Wisconsin

Filed under: Court Decisions,Law — DRJ @ 3:38 pm

[Headlines from DRJ]

Supreme Court Affirms Police Can Order Blood Drawn From Unconscious DUI Suspects:

The Supreme Court has ruled that police may, without a warrant, order blood drawn from an unconscious person suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol.

The Fourth Amendment generally requires police to obtain a warrant for a blood draw. But in a 5-4 vote on Thursday, the court upheld a Wisconsin law that says people driving on a public road have impliedly consented to having their blood drawn if police suspect them of driving under the influence. It also said that “exigent circumstances” permit police to obtain a blood sample without a warrant.

Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Brett Kavanaugh joined Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority vote.

From oral argument:

Under Wisconsin law, anyone who drives on the state’s roads is assumed to have consented to have his blood tested for alcohol and drugs. The state’s laws also assume that a driver who is unconscious has not withdrawn that consent. Today – in a rare afternoon session – the Supreme Court heard oral argument in a challenge to the constitutionality of the provision allowing a blood test of an unconscious driver without a warrant. After an hour of debate, it wasn’t entirely clear how the justices might rule. But unlike the morning’s argument in the dispute over the decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, it seemed possible that the court might not divide completely along ideological lines, with Justice Stephen Breyer at times appearing to side with the state.

The case was brought to the Supreme Court by Gerald Mitchell, whom police found wet and shirtless on a beach in Wisconsin six years ago. When Mitchell – who was slurring his words – told police that he had parked his car because he “felt that he was too drunk to drive,” police did a preliminary breath test, the results of which are not admissible in court: Mitchell’s blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit of .08 percent.

Mitchell was placed under arrest, but he was so drunk that police decided to take him to the hospital for a blood test instead of doing another breath test. By the time Mitchell arrived at the hospital, he was unconscious. Hospital staff took a blood sample, which registered a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.222 percent, and Mitchell was charged with driving while intoxicated.

From he Wisconsin Bar summary:

Under Wisconsin’s implied consent law, Wis. Stat. section 343.305(2), anyone who operates a motor vehicle on Wisconsin’s roads “is deemed to have given consent to his or her breath, blood or urine” to determine the presence of drugs or alcohol. Under Wis. Stat. section 343.305(3)(b), “[a] person who is unconscious or otherwise not capable of withdrawing consent is presumed not to have withdrawn consent under this subsection.”

The U.S. Supreme Court did not decide whether police officers can rely on Wisconsin’s informed consent law alone, which is a question the Wisconsin Supreme Court has grappled with in several unconscious driver cases in the last several terms. (In Mitchell, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the conviction, but was divided on rationale).

Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the question under the Fourth Amendment’s exigent circumstances exception, which allows police to obtain a warrantless blood draw in emergency-type situations, which leave no time to apply for a warrant.

Mitchell was not involved in an accident so they case was remanded, presumably to determine if this is one of the rare exceptions.

The dissents are interesting. Notably, the majority here included Breyer but not Gorsuch, who thinks cert was improvidently granted since the Court based its ruling on exigent circumstsnces, a legal theory not addressed below.


17 Responses to “More SCOTUS: Mitchell v Wisconsin”

  1. Obamacare otra vez. The Court rules for the State on an issue which not only was not before the Court but that the State had expressly waived, exigent circumstances, because if it had ruled on the issue before the Court, implied consent, it would have had to rule against the State. And no surprise at all that Alito wrote the opinion. He’s not Scalito, he’s Rhenquito, on the Fourth Amendment.

    nk (dbc370)

  2. So wait, the guy wasn’t driving, and they prosecuted him for DUI?

    From what I recall (maybe it’s specific to California), you’re guilty of DUI if you’re in the front seat of a car with the key in the ignition, even if the motor isn’t (and wasn’t) running and even if you’re asleep.

    But being found passed out on a beach nowhere near your car, and with no witness to the act you’re charged with?

    Holy police state, Batman!

    Dave (1bb933)

  3. 2. It’s not specific to California. It’s that way in South Dakota, too.

    Gryph (08c844)

  4. A confession with corroboration is sufficient corpus delicti.

    nk (dbc370)

  5. 4. Corroboration is the key concept here. Corpus delicti is by-definition proof that there was a crime committed independently of the investigation to determine who did so. I have never liked the idea that you can be prosecuted for DUI without actually driving.

    Gryph (08c844)

  6. But isn’t your objection that no LEO saw him drive drunk, not that it didn’t happen? His admission that he was recently driving is corroborated by his car being there and no one else present.

    DRJ (15874d)

  7. His confession made it possible. Had he not been impaired, he might have known to stay silent.

    DRJ (15874d)

  8. How do they know he was over the legal limit while he was behind the wheel?

    Dave (1bb933)

  9. A little bird flies down and whispers in the jurors’ ears.

    nk (dbc370)

  10. I took a quick peek at Wisconsin’s DWI law. It is as I remember it from the last century. A first offense is a civil offense with no jail and fines under $500.00 (although there may be “surcharges”), and revocation/suspension, alcohol school, ignition interlock, and other similar nuisances.

    nk (dbc370)

  11. There’s something called the alcohol curve, Dave. Experts testify that alcohol enters the blood stream at such and such a rate and metabolizes at such and such a rate and if you had such and such a BAC at such and such a time then you had such and such a BAC at the time you were driving or operating (in Wisconsin there’s a legal difference between “driving” and “operating”) the vehicle. It’s very sciency. You’re not anti-science, are you?

    nk (dbc370)

  12. It’s very sciency. You’re not anti-science, are you?

    Hmm, not sure. I heard all the cool kids are.

    Here’s the thing – did he give them a timetable for when he parked the car, and are his statements made under the influence of alcohol reliable? When a drunk tells you something, isn’t there a reasonable doubt about its accuracy, ladies and gentlemen of this SUPPOSED jury?

    Dave (1bb933)

  13. Do read the opinion, old chap, there’s a good fellow. Page 3, Part B. That’s where the chain of circumstances begins with the police receiving a report that the defendant appearing very drunk had gotten into a van and driven off.

    nk (dbc370)

  14. Do read the opinion, old chap, there’s a good fellow.

    I’ve heard legal strategy summarized as: “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

    I guess this is the point where I pound the table…

    Dave (1bb933)

  15. Like Russian collusion, DUI is the kind of crime where by proving the corpus delicti you have proved the guilt of the defendant. I would not have written “A confession with corroboration is sufficient corpus delicti” in my first comment, if there had not been corroboration.

    nk (dbc370)

  16. So this guy appealed a $500 fine all the way to the Supreme Court? Hardcore.

    Dave (1bb933)

  17. If it was a first offense. Things get serious as the number of priors increases. Which I imagine is what happened.

    nk (dbc370)

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