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Impact of Supreme Court holding on Wisconsin DUI stops

Stopped for drunk driving? It is not uncommon for the officer conducting the stop to ask for a breath or blood test to determine if you have been drinking - but what are your rights during these stops? Do you have to submit to this test?

The extent of your rights in these situations was recently discussed by the ultimate judicial authority: the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

The case at issue: SCOTUS recently heard a case that questioned a unique angle to the use of blood and breath tests during drunk driving stops.

Such tests are supported by implied consent laws. These laws are designed to allow officers to conduct alcohol tests when they suspect that a driver is under the influence.

This case looked specifically at when a warrant is required to gather evidence during these stops.

First, a bit of judicial history: In order to understand the impact of this specific case, it is best to have an understanding of another, similar case that SCOTUS heard about three years ago.

In 2013, SCOTUS held in Missouri v. McNeely that enforcement officers must get a warrant before they could collect blood from a suspected drunk driver. This holding was a big deal because police often relied on the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement in these situations.

The exigent circumstances exception essentially allowed police to gather evidence, like a blood sample, without the individual's consent and without a warrant. Such a practice is generally deemed illegal as it is a violation of the individual's Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. However, officers argued that the exception to the rule applied in these cases.

The argument hinged on a number of suppositions, including the assumption that without prompt action the evidence of alcohol within the driver's system would be lost. This argument was based on the fact that the liver would filter the "evidence", or alcohol, out of the blood before the officers could get a warrant.

Ultimately, SCOTUS disagreed with the broad use of this exception to allow the gathering of blood samples over the objection of the accused. This meant that officers could not just assume the exception would apply. In some cases it may, but officers would need to prove that their case qualified. Instead, SCOTUS said cops should plan on getting a warrant to conduct tests in these situations.

Now, the case at hand: The current case, Birchfield v. North Dakota, involves a review of the distinction between the two most commonly used tests: breath and blood tests.

SCOTUS used this case to provide a bright line rule: once a driver is arrested for drunk driving the officers can conduct a warrantless breath alcohol test. However, a warrant is still required to conduct a blood alcohol test.

Impact in Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Bar Association recently published an article reviewing these cases and predicting the impact of the holdings in Wisconsin. The main conclusion: the cases will likely be used to ensure the breath test results are admissible as evidence in drunk driving cases in Wisconsin.

Impact for those facing drunk driving charges in Wisconsin: It is important that those who are facing charges note that many defenses are available. Keeping these cases in mind can help increase the likelihood that experienced legal professionals can draft a successful defense to better ensure your rights are protected.

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