The Supreme Court of the United States is going to take another foray into the world of driving while intoxicated (DWI). While the case that they have accepted does not come from Texas, it could have a huge impact on how implied consent laws intersect with your Fourth Amendment rights. The issue is whether a a legislature can, by way of an informed-consent statute, “deem” a class of persons to have consented to a search. In this case Mitchell was unconscious when his blood was drawn. Mitchell's lawyers challenged this search as illegally obtained because he was unconscious at the time and did not consent to the search.
What Happened in State v. Mitchell
The case that the Supreme Court will hear, State v. Mitchell, comes from Wisconsin. In it, police received a tip that someone who appeared drunk had just driven off in a gray van. Later, police stumbled onto the defendant as he was walking along the beach. He was having trouble standing and his speech was slurred. He admitted to drinking and then driving to the beach, but that he had parked his car “because he felt he was too drunk to drive.” The gray van was found nearby.
The police officer conducted a breathalyzer test, which indicated a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.24%, three times the legal limit, and arrested the defendant.
Immediately following the arrest, the defendant became lethargic from the alcohol in his system. The arresting officer decided that conducting a more accurate breath test was not feasible and so brought the defendant to the hospital instead of the police station for a blood draw. At the hospital, the defendant was so incapacitated that he could not be woken up. As required by the state's implied consent law, the police officer read the defendant his rights and informed him that he could withdraw his consent to the upcoming blood draw. The defendant, of course, was unconscious and was not able to consent.
A blood sample was procured. It revealed a BAC of 0.222%. The defendant was charged with DWI.
The Path to the Supreme Court
The defendant claimed that the blood draw was an unreasonable search that violated his Fourth Amendment rights. He filed a motion to suppress the BAC evidence. The prosecutor contended that he had given his implied consent to a blood draw by driving on a public road and had not affirmatively rescinded that consent. The trial judge denied his motion, the evidence was allowed in court, and the defendant was convicted.
When the defendant appealed, the case went to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which affirmed the conviction. The defendant filed another appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court accepted certiorari.
The case is set for argument before the United State's Supreme Court on April 23, 2019.
DWI Defense Attorney Doug Murphy is Closely Monitoring this Case
The Supreme Court rarely takes cases that deal with DWI. However, Mitchell concerns some of the most important aspects of a U.S. citizen's Fourth Amendment rights and presents an important opportunity for the Supreme Court to follow up its last DWI case, Birchfield v. North Dakota. This could be yet another bellwether case that impacts DWI cases throughout Texas and the United States.
DWI defense attorney Doug Murphy is watching these developments closely as the outcome of the case in the Supreme Court will drastically impact the rights of people accused of DWI in the Houston area. Contact him online or call his law office at (713) 229-8333 if you have been accused of DWI.