Even though there was “no dispute” that a sheriff’s deputy lacked probable cause, the Court of Appeals ruled he did not violate state law or a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights when requesting a blood draw at the scene of a fatal crash.
The court’s May 22 decision in State v. Megan A. Padley noted that the deputy relied on an amendment to the implied consent law effective as of 2010, Wis. Stat. § 343.305(3)(ar)2. (2011-12), when he used an “Informing the Accused” form to require Megan Padley to choose between consenting to a draw of her blood for purposes of a chemical test or being sanctioned with automatic penalties that include driver’s license revocation.
Court records and briefs indicated Padley was driving eastbound on Highway 78 near Merrimac at about 4:40 p.m. June 29, 2013, when she missed her exit. She then decided to make a three-point U-turn in a regular driveway.
Padley was just completing the last leg of the U-turn when an eastbound motorcycle crashed into her vehicle, which was then in the opposite lane of traffic.
The motorcycle’s passenger died at the scene. The driver was taken to the hospital, and Padley was questioned at the scene by responding Deputy Shawn Finnegan.
Finnegan administered routine field sobriety tests, checked Padley’s eyes, listened to her speech, and smelled her breath for an odor of liquor and found nothing. At that point, Finnegan asked Padley and she agreed to return with him to the sheriff’s department and take a blood test.
Once in the department offices, Finnegan read the “Informing the Accused” language to Padley, giving her the choice to get the blood draw, or have her license revoked and pay a fine. Under state statute, the police can ask any driver involved in a crash that resulted in serious injury or death to either get a blood draw or have their license privileges affected.
Padley’s blood tested just over the cutoff detection level for a drug called Delta 9 and she was later arrested. She was charged with negligent homicide by operation of a motor vehicle and a second count of causing injury by operation of a motor vehicle with a restricted controlled substance.
Counsel for Padley filed a motion to suppress, saying the blood draw was an unconstitutional search in that consent was not voluntary, and Finnegan had no “reason to believe” Padley committed any traffic violations.
Circuit Court Judge Patrick Taggart denied the motion to suppress and sentenced Padley to 10 months in jail with Huber privileges, a 24-month revocation of her driver’s license and a $551 fine for operating under the influence of a controlled substance, as well as five years probation and a withheld sentence on the negligent homicide count.
Counsel for Padley asserted on appeal that Finnegan’s search was not voluntary, and therefore did not pass constitutional muster.
According to Padley’s brief, the blood draw violated equal protection requirements, as well as both state and federal Fourth Amendment protections when her blood was seized with “absolutely” no evidence of impairment.
Pictures from the accident scene showed Padley’s vehicle was in her own lane, and Finnegan had performed no accident reconstruction at the scene that further suggested Padley was at fault.
The appellate court first noted that Padley’s interpretation and use of Wis. Stat. 343.305(3)(ar)2 was incorrect in that she failed to discriminate between cases where a defendant’s blood had been seized, and where a blood draw was made as a choice, as was the case here.
One by one, the appellate court shot down Padley’s arguments in part because the allegedly probative cases were not on point, and involved caselaw where a seizure was mandated and not a choice between two or more options.
First, Padley claimed the statute as written was unconstitutional on its face because there were factual scenarios where a traffic violation completely unrelated to the accident, such as a missing rear license plate, could be used to support a blood draw. The court responded that Padley cannot argue the possible unconstitutionality of a theoretical scenario when there is no assertion that her own scenario is unconstitutional.
According to the language of Wis. Stat. 346.33, if a vehicle interferes with the progress of a motor vehicle while making a U-turn, this would be a traffic violation under 323.305(3)(ar)2. Padley never reasonably disputed, according to the court, that her actions somehow didn’t fit within the reach of the statute.
Counsel for the defendant also suggested Padley’s consent was not voluntarily granted. If she had the correct facts when asked to give blood, they argued, she never would have agreed to the blood draw. The appellate court responded that under any interpretation of state or federal law, Padley’s consent was voluntary.
Padley never was under arrest, and voluntarily came down to the sheriff’s department and provided blood. She wasn’t coerced; she was given a choice, and just because the decision was difficult does not remove the element of choice.
Padley also tried to assert that similar statutes in other jurisdictions had been found unconstitutional or unenforceable for similar reasons, in instances where there was a motoring fatality or serious injury, or a traffic law was violated.
The appellate court again referenced its comment about Padley’s misinterpretation of Wis. Stat. 350, and showed for example that Padley wrongly relied on cases such as Cooper v. State, 587 S.E.2d 605 (Ga. 2003) and State v. Declerk, 317 P.3d 794 (Kansas Ct. App.) 2014, where both cases involved seizure of fluids without a choice being available.
Lastly, Padley asserted that the state lacked the requisite “reason to believe” a person had committed a traffic violation, so any obligations to even present a choice arising from Wis. Stat. 343.305(3)(ar)2 should never have been triggered.
But the court said the parties need only look at the basic facts that were available to the deputy at the scene of the accident to find the answer. Namely, that Padley admitted to Finnegan that she performed a U-turn, and that the U-turn appeared to contribute to the cause of the accident, was enough to merit application of Sect. 343.305(3)(ar)2.