Monday, April 15, 2019

Spring 2019 SCOTUS in the Classroom Case: Mitchell v. Wisconsin



We are excited to announce our Spring SCOTUS in the Classroom case: Mitchell v. Wisconsin. This case involves a challenge by a driver—convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol—that the drawing and testing of his blood while he was unconscious was a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

We encourage teachers to feature this case in class as it is being argued and decided at the Court!

Background

Gerald Mitchell was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated and failed a field breath test. He soon lost consciousness, making it impossible for the police to administer another breath test for alcohol. The police officers did not seek a warrant, and his blood was drawn about an hour after his arrest. He was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated and exceeding the blood alcohol limit.

Wisconsin has an implied consent law, which states, “A person who is unconscious or otherwise not capable of withdrawing consent is presumed not to have withdrawn consent.” It also indicates that if that person is unconscious, “one or more [blood] samples… may be administered to the person.” Mitchell’s attorney filed a motion to suppress the blood test results because Mitchell’s blood was taken without a warrant. The state argues that Mitchell had implied consent to the test by driving and had not withdrawn his consent—therefore the evidence was obtained properly and can be used in court.

There are many interesting questions presented in this case such as:

  • Is a statute authorizing a blood draw from an unconscious motorist lawful under the Fourth Amendment?

  • Do implied consent laws satisfy the consent exception to needing a warrant?

  • Should unconscious drunken driving suspects have different protections than conscious ones?

Mitchell v. Wisconsin presents an opportunity to teach about the warrant requirement in the Fourth Amendment, permissible warrantless searches, “legitimate governmental interests,” the “reasonableness” standard, and implied consent laws.

Mitchell will be argued on April 23, 2019. Street Law will post case materials as they become available on the SCOTUS in the Classroom program page. Teachers and students are encouraged to hold moot courts of the case the same weeks that the Supreme Court hears arguments, which means students can follow discussion and analysis in the news and listen to or read a transcript of the actual oral arguments at the Court. You can find instructions and handouts for conducting a moot court at SCOTUS in the Classroom.