Unconscious Driver DUI Case Taken Up by Supreme Court

(CN) – The Supreme Court agreed Friday to decide a case challenging a Wisconsin law, mirrored in dozens of other states, that allows a police officer to draw blood from an unconscious driver if they suspect the motorist is drunk.

Police stopped Gerald Mitchell on a beach in Sheboygan County in May 2013 after receiving reports that he was driving his gray van while intoxicated. After a breath test revealed that Mitchell had a blood-alcohol level of 0.24, three times the legal limit, police officer Alex Jaeger arrested Mitchell and drove him to a hospital for a blood draw.

Though Jaeger gave Mitchell the opportunity to withdraw his consent to the procedure, Mitchell had fallen unconscious at the hospital and attempts at rousing him proved unavailing.

Mitchell appealed his DWI conviction by accusing the state of having conducted a search barred by the Fourth Amendment. Prosecutors countered that the officer had probable cause to direct staff to draw blood because he had witnessed Mitchell in a severely drunken state.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court sided with the state last July, finding that the officer did not need a warrant to draw the blood of a drunken driver who fell unconscious.

“By driving in Wisconsin, Mitchell consented to have samples of his breath, blood or urine taken upon the request of a law enforcement officer who had probable cause to believe he was intoxicated, unless he withdrew such consent,” Justice Patience Roggensack wrote for the majority in a 5-2 ruling.

Mitchell appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in October, arguing in a petition for writ of certiorari that police should have obtained a warrant before drawing his blood.

“The Wisconsin court’s divisions reflect a nationwide controversy. Provisions like Wisconsin’s are widespread: twenty-nine states have laws sanctioning warrantless blood draws from unconscious intoxicated driving suspects,” the petition states. “This case is an opportunity for the court to resolve an important constitutional question: can state Legislatures obviate the warrant requirement by ‘deeming’ their citizens to have consented to Fourth Amendment searches?”

On Friday afternoon, the Supreme Court granted Mitchell’s petition for review. Per their custom, the justices did not comment on the decision to hear the case.

The case is one of eight that the Supreme Court took up this afternoon. 

Hamid Mohamed Ahmed Ali Rehaif, an Emirati national who was deported over a shooting-range excursion, is the petitioner in one of the other cases. Rehaif is challenging a jury’s finding that he “knowingly” possessed a firearm while unlawfully in the United States.

Though he had entered the United States on a student visa in 2013, Rehaif received an email from the Florida Institute of Technology a year and a half later notifying him that he had been “academically dismissed” and that his immigration status would be terminated in February 2015.

Rehaif disputes that he was aware of his prohibited status at the time of his arrest that December. In his petition to the Supreme Court, Rehaif notes that FIT never confirmed he received the dismissal email. 

The court did not comment apart from granting Rehaif leave to proceed in forma pauperis.

Another criminal case that the justices agreed to consider involves the sentencing of Jamar Alonzo Quarles after he pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Quarles was sentenced to 17 years in prison under the Armed Career Criminal Act after the trial court concluded that a prior burglary conviction qualified as a violent felony.

The lower court made this conclusion after deeming it sufficient that Quarles formed the intent to commit a crime at any time while “remaining in” the building, rather than when he first remained.

Quarles says the statute requires proof that intent to commit the crime was present at the time he entered or first remained inside the building unlawfully.

Among several civil cases meanwhile the court took up a Freedom of Information Act suit involving Sioux Falls newspaper Argus Leader.

After a federal judge ruled for the paper, ordering the U.S. Department of Agriculture to produce redemption data from retailers participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the trade group Food Marketing Institute moved to intervene and appeal the judgment. 

The institute says an Eighth Circuit ruling that affirmed the decision for Argus mangles the crux of Exemption 4 of the Freedom of Information Act, which protects from disclosure all “confidential” private-sector “commercial or financial information” within the government’s possession. 

Departing from the term’s ordinary meaning, U.S. Courts of Appeals have held “that this exemption applies only if disclosure is ‘likely * * * to cause substantial harm to the competitive position of’ the source of the information,” according to Rehaif’s petition.

Overtime claims from a man who worked on a drilling platform off the California coast feature in another case on Friday’s grant list.

Emphasizing that the work at issue occurred on the Outer Continental Shelf, Parker Drilling Management Services challenges the Ninth Circuit’s decision to apply California law rather than the Fair Labor Standards Act to claims filed against it by worker Brian Newton.

“The result is wholly unanticipated and potentially massive liability for OCS operators that fully complied with the FLSA,” Parker’s petition states.

In another case, the Supreme Court agreed Friday to look at taxes North Carolina applies to trust income when a trust’s beneficiaries are state residents.

The state revenue department noted in its petition for certiorari that the court has been silent for the last 90 years “on whether these taxes comport with due process.”

It wants the justices to reverse a decision that barred North Carolina from taxing undistributed income earned by the Kimberly Rice Kaestner 1992 Family Trust and held for the benefit of the beneficiaries. 

The Supreme Court also agreed Friday to resolve whether courts can exercise jurisdiction over Title VII claims that plaintiffs never raised with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The parties in the EEOC case are Fort Bend County, Texas, and Lois Davis.

A civil rights case that the justices picked up Friday meanwhile was brought by Edward McDonough, the former Democratic commissioner of the Rensselaer County Board of Elections.

McDonough says he was acquitted on dozens of criminal charges based on fabricated evidence, but the Second Circuit found his fabrication-of-evidence claim untimely and affirmed dismissal.

While the lower court found that the clock began to run when McDonough became aware of the tainted evidence and its improper use, he says the true start of the clock is when the proceedings against him terminated in his favor.

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