How Does the Supreme Court’s Opinion in Mitchell v. Wisconsin Affect Arizona DUI Laws?

The opinions of the United States Supreme Court are the law of the land and generally must be followed by all states. Often, the Supreme Court decides which cases to choose based on the issues that are presented in the case. Typically, the Court will select cases that raise legal questions that are unclear or not entirely settled due to incremental advancements in the law made by lower courts.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case, Mitchell v. Wisconsin, which discusses blood-draws from unconscious motorists who are suspected of being under the influence. The case is the third U.S. Supreme Court case in recent years to touch on this topic. However, because no five Justices could agree on a single basis for the opinion, technically, the decision is not binding on the lower courts and only impacts the defendant in this case. However, in reality, courts across the country will look to the plurality opinion for guidance.

The facts as the Court described them are as follows: police officers arrested the defendant under suspicion of driving under the influence. Officers took the defendant to the police station to administer a breath test; however, the defendant was too lethargic to complete the test. Because Wisconsin law provides that an unconscious motorist is not capable of withdrawing implied consent, an officer drove the defendant to a hospital for a blood draw. The results of the test indicated the defendant’s blood-alcohol content was over the legal limit, and he was arrested and charged with DUI.

The defendant argued that the unconscious blood-draw violated his Fourth Amendment rights, and that the results of the test should be inadmissible. Wisconsin state courts denied the defendant’s motion, and he appealed up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

While five Justices agreed that the case should be vacated and remanded, there was not a majority opinion because no five Justices could agree on a rationale. Four Justices (Alito, Roberts, Breyer, and Kavanaugh) would hold that the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement would generally allow for an unconscious blood-draw unless the defendant could establish “that a warrant application would interfere with other pressing needs or duties.” Justice Thomas issued a concurrence to the plurality’s judgment in which he explained his rationale for a per se rule that “the natural metabolization of alcohol in the bloodstream creates an exigency once police have probable cause to believe the driver is drunk, regardless of whether the driver is conscious.”

Four Justices dissented from the plurality’s opinion. Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan would have held that because police officers conceded that they had time to get a warrant, they should have done so. Justice Gorsuch would not have decided the case based on exigent-circumstances, because the parties did not raise the exigent-circumstances issue below.

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona DUI?

If you have recently been arrested for an Arizona DUI offense, you need a dedicated and experienced criminal defense attorney who will stand up for your rights. Attorney James E. Novak is a veteran Tempe DUI defense attorney with extensive experience handling all types of Arizona DUI cases. To learn more about how he can help you defend against the charges you face, call 480-413-1499 to schedule a free consultation today.

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