The U.S. Supreme Court just published its opinion in the matter of Mitchell v. Wisconsin. Prior to this case, appellate courts had been split over whether the blood draw of an unconscious DUI/DWI suspect violates a motorists' Fourth Amendment rights. Now, we know: it does not.
In a 5-4 vote on Thursday, June 27, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a law in Wisconsin that claims drivers on public roads have by implied consent given the police the right to draw their blood if they are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The latter, however, required a warrant if the driver refused, but under the same law, if exigent circumstances existed, then the police could have a sample of blood taken without a warrant.
Previously, court rulings had found that a blood draw is a significant invasion of a person's privacy – unlike breath tests, with blood, DNA and other information can be obtained about the person, not just the amount of blood alcohol content (BAC) in the person's system. As such, courts found there are less intrusive ways to obtain blood specimens when a person is unconscious and unable to provide explicit consent – the less invasive way was via a warrant.
In the case of Mitchell v. Wisconsin, Mitchell was found by Lake Michigan at which place the police administered a breath test. He was taken to the hospital for a blood draw, but by the time they arrived at the hospital, Mitchell was unconscious and unable to consent. The police nonetheless ordered medical personnel to take a blood specimen. The results of the test indicated his BAC was 0.222%.
The U.S. Supreme Court was split on the essential question of whether this case should be decided on implied consent or exigent circumstances. As it is, the majority invoked exigent circumstances. Though not sharing the same opinion, the majority basically stated that (1) the alcohol will dissipate over time and so if the police must wait, the blood test results will not be accurate; and (2) it would be "perverse" if the driver who is so intoxicated enough to pass out is rewarded by not allowing the police to immediately obtain an accurate BAC level.
The dissent, however, notes that in the lower Wisconsin courts, it was acknowledged that the police had ample time to obtain a warrant – they simply did not because the law did not require it. Thus, to them, the question is more about implied consent rather than exigent circumstances, since the latter did not necessarily apply in the case before the court.
What does the Mitchell v. Wisconsin case mean for Pennsylvanians?
If you intend to drink in Montgomery County (or anywhere in Pennsylvania or the United States for that matter), make sure you have a safe ride home. If you pass out after drinking – even if you are pulled over on the side of the road, the police may now have the legal authority to take you to the hospital for a blood draw without your specific consent and without the requirement to obtain a warrant.
If you have been arrested for DUI in Montgomery County and have questions or need strong legal representation, contact David J. Cohen Law Firm, LLC today. As a former police officer, David J. Cohen has the insight you need for your best DUI defense.