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Reasonable suspicion at issue in some refusal cases

For those who are pulled over by police for suspicion that they are driving under the influence (DUI), the complicated criminal justice process begins as soon as law enforcement requests a field sobriety test or other chemical testing. In Wisconsin, even refusing to submit to blood or urine testing may result in DUI charges.

However, it is important to note that the accused have rights protected by the courts at every phase of the process. Accordingly, a case currently being appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court questions whether those who refuse chemical testing can raise the issue of reasonable suspicion at the refusal hearing stage.

Essentially, law enforcement officers are only allowed to pull over drivers if they have a reasonable suspicion that they are intoxicated or are breaking some other law. If they cannot demonstrate why such reasonable suspicion exists, the charges against the accused should likely be dropped.

In the case currently being appealed, the issue at hand is whether or not the accused can question the reasonable suspicion of law enforcement at the point when he or she has an initial hearing for refusing chemical testing.

This is a particularly important question, as refusal can automatically result in the loss of a motorist's driver's license. The ability to raise the issue of reasonable suspicion at the refusal hearing may allow some drivers to keep their licenses.

Currently, the lower courts which have considered this case have agreed that if law enforcement officers do not have reasonable suspicion, they may not request chemical testing. This would arguably lead to cases in which legitimate refusals are not met with punishment. However, the Supreme Court will have to decide this issue ultimately for all Wisconsin drivers to be protected in this way.

Source: State Bar of Wisconsin, "Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear case in which driver refused chemical testing," Feb. 21, 2012

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