As discussed previously in this space, we have been eagerly awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in Mitchell v. Wisconsin. The Court set out to determine whether Wisconsin’s Implied Consent statute requires police to obtain a search warrant before getting a blood sample from an unconscious DUI suspect. The state of Wisconsin argued that Mitchell, through the state’s Implied Consent statute, had already consented to the blood draw, thereby removing the requirement for a warrant. Alternatively, they argued this should simply be viewed as an exercise of the State’s power to imposes conditions on a person’s privilege to operate a vehicle on Wisconsin’s roads.
The United States Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in the case of Mitchell v. Wisconsin. As this blog discussed previously, this the third case in a series of cases dealing with whether the police can take a DUI/OVI suspect’s blood without a search warrant. The questions and statements from the bench during the oral argument may telegraph how each justice views the issue. However, in our experience, it is difficult to predict the outcome of a case based on the oral arguments.
Brynn Campbell was involved in a head on-crash which killed the 83-year-old woman driving the other car. Campbell was taken to the hospital, and hospital staff performed a urine test. Although Campbell showed no obvious signs of impairment, a police officer went to the hospital and asked the nurse for the urine test results. The results showed Campbell’s alcohol level was well over the limit, according to the Global News. The officer then obtained a search warrant to obtain Campbell’s urine samples and have them tested. Campbell was charged with vehicular homicide. She was acquitted by the trial court, and the prosecution appealed.
Just as Hollywood has produced some good movies in trilogies, the United States Supreme Court has produced some good case law in trilogies. The Court addressed the right to confront crime lab analysts with the trinity of Bullcoming, Melendez-Diaz and Williams. On the issue of the need for a warrant to draw blood from a DUI suspect, two-thirds of the triad have been completed: McNeely and Birchfield. The triumvirate is about to be consummated with Mitchell v. Wisconsin.
Last week, the United States Supreme Court released a decision in a trio of cases involving DUI refusal laws. A previous article in this blog gives a preview of the cases. To decide the outcomes of those cases, the court analyzes whether search warrants are required before law enforcement officers can administer breath tests and blood tests. Based on that analysis, the Court decides whether states can make it illegal to refuse chemical tests in DUI cases. The Court’s decision will impact Ohio DUI/OVI cases.
After considering 13 cases involving criminal refusal laws, the Court chose these three cases: Beylund v. Levi, Bernard v. Minnesota, and Birchfield v. North Dakota. These three cases were apparently chosen because they have three varying scenarios. Beylund claimed his consent to a blood test was coerced because he was told he would be punished for refusing the test. Bernard challenged his conviction for refusing a breath test. Birchfield argued his conviction for refusing a blood test was unconstitutional. The Court issued one opinion for all three cases under the caption of Birchfield v. North Dakota.
The Birchfield opinion analyzes the Fourth Amendment issues. The Court confirms that both breath tests and blood tests are ‘searches’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Fourth Amendment law presumes a warrantless search is unreasonable. Accordingly, for a law enforcement officer to administer a blood test or a breath test, there must be a search warrant or a recognized exception to the search warrant requirement.