WI Supreme Court Upholds Forced Blood Draws in Drunk Driving Cases
In a holiday ruling that will impact pending and future drunk driving cases, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld three drunk driving convictions that were based on forcibly taken blood samples. This ruling came despite a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that created a heightened standard for involuntary blood draws.
Cases in Question
The 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Missouri v. McNeely established stricter requirements for when a warrantless forced blood draw may take place. SCOTUS held that police need a search warrant in most cases where a suspected drunk driver did not consent to give a blood sample. While the court said exceptions could be made based on a case's given circumstances, it would be determined on a case-by-case basis. The Court also held that the McNeely ruling would apply retroactively to pending cases.
While 21 states already require search warrants for forced blood draws, prior to the McNeely ruling Wisconsin was one of the few states that gave police the power to forcibly draw blood from a suspected drunk suspect. Wisconsin law presumed that the fact alcohol's presence in the bloodstream decreases over time amounted to exigent circumstances (think of it as a “now or never” decision that police must make). This allowed for officers to take a blood sample quickly, without the suspect's consent, and without a search warrant.
The McNeely ruling changed this presumption resulting in confusion for prosecutors, plaintiffs, and defense attorneys as to whether the McNeely ruling would apply to pending cases, and if Wisconsin police officers could still take warrantless blood draws in drunk driving cases.
With this December ruling, the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision to uphold three convictions based on forcible blood draws offers much needed clarity. In the first two cases, the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed that the McNeely ruling requiring warrants applied retroactively and the drivers in these two cases did have their rights violated, but the police acted in good faith of Wisconsin law. The third case the Wisconsin court found to fit under the exception provided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The moral of story is that the Wisconsin Supreme Court “is not inclined to find new chinks in Wisconsin drunk driving convictions based on the heightened standard for involuntary blood draws.” This will prove a boon to police looking to convict drunk drivers involved in an accident, as well as to plaintiffs' attorneys. The police will be able to investigate a drunk driving incident in a timely fashion and in a civil case; a blood draw is a useful piece of evidence that helps victims win compensation.
Wisconsin has the highest rate of drunk driving in the country. As of 2009, more than 26 percent of Wisconsin drivers admitted to driving under the influence. As of 2012, there were more than 33,000 drunk driving convictions, in addition to 223 alcohol-related deaths and 3,000 injuries in the state. Finally, 36 percent of all fatal traffic accidents that year in Wisconsin were due to drunk driving.
Drunk driving is a dangerous problem in Wisconsin that hurts entire communities. The ability to show a driver was in fact intoxicated at the time of an accident is a tool that is very much needed in Wisconsin—a tool the state's high court saw fit to preserve.
Contact an Experienced Wisconsin Drunk Driving Attorney
If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident where the driver was intoxicated, reach out to our Green Bay drunk driving attorney and Appleton drunk driving attorneys at Herrling Clark Law Firm Ltd. today. With offices located in Appleton, Green Bay, New London, and Oshkosh, we can help ensure that you receive adequate compensation for your injuries.