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Wisconsin Supreme Court hears important DUI case: Part I

We recently wrote about the acquittal of former Wisconsin Senator Randy Hopper. In the last two months, Hopper was found not guilty in a jury trial on charges of drunk driving. Based on the outcome of that trial, he was also able to beat a charge of refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test.

In a somewhat rare move, the prosecution allowed Hopper to rely on the trial record, rather than hold his refusal hearing before the trial, as is usually the case. Because it was determined that the officer did not have probable cause to arrest him, Hopper's attorneys argued that he had no obligation to submit to a breathalyzer test.

Unfortunately, not every DUI defendant gets a break like this. Even if someone is ultimately acquitted of DUI charges, they may still be convicted of a refusal charge, which can result in a one-year license revocation.

With that in mind, readers may find it noteworthy that the Wisconsin Supreme Court recently heard arguments on an interesting an important question: If a traffic stop itself is found to be unlawful, should subsequent refusal to submit to chemical testing still be considered unlawful?

The defendant in the case before the court did refuse chemical testing at the time of his arrest. He later argued that because the police stop was illegal, his arrest was not lawful. Both the circuit court and an appellate court agreed with him. The appellate court additionally held that because the stop and subsequent arrest were unlawful, law enforcement did not have the authority to mandate that the man submit to chemical testing.

However, prosecutors appealed to the state Supreme Court, where the case is currently being considered. The prosecution's argument is that refusal hearings function only to determine whether police had probable cause to suspect a defendant of DUI. Therefore, defendants are not allowed to challenge the legality of the police stop during a refusal hearing.

Now that readers have some background on the case, check back later this week as we continue our discussion about oral arguments made in front of the Supreme Court, as well as what the Court's ruling might mean for DUI defendants.

Source: State Bar of Wisconsin, "Supreme court hears argument against license revocation where police stop unlawful," April 25, 2012

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