Charlotte DWI Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: “If I simply intend to plead guilty, why do I need a lawyer?”
It’s been a few years now since the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark DUI decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota. That case represented a major development in drunk driving jurisprudence and the impact continues to be felt across the country. Since the Supreme Court issued its opinion, state courts have struggled to interpret the decision and decide how it impacts cases that were pending prior to its issuance.
One state that very recently grappled with the case is Nebraska. This past week, the Nebraska Supreme Court issued a decision involving a drunk driver from Lincoln who was found guilty the day before the U.S. Supreme Court released its groundbreaking decision. The issue for the Nebraska court was whether the decision should have a retroactive impact on the man’s case.
First, we should discuss what the U.S. Supreme Court said in Birchfield. The case concerned whether drivers should face criminal charges for refusing to provide a blood sample to police officers without a warrant. The Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment prevented suspects from having blood samples taken without a warrant. Going further, the Court made clear that motorists could not be said to have consented to the blood test if their only alternative is to face criminal charges for refusal. The Court offered guidance to police officers going forward about how to conduct themselves and what kinds of circumstances might reasonably be seen as extraordinary.
However, the Court did nothing to explain what should happen to those who had pending drunk driving cases at the time the decision was announced. Though the defendant in the Nebraska case had already been convicted the day before, he had not yet been sentenced.
Different states have so far dealt with this issue in different ways. In two states, Kansas and Tennessee, courts have said that something known as the good-faith exception should apply. This means that officers who were behaving reasonably at the time should be shown deference and the results of the blood samples should be admissible in court. This means that the cases pending at the time of the Birchfield decision in these states will not have the results overturned.
In other states, like Arizona and Wisconsin, courts have come down on the other side of the question. In Arizona, the high court argued that officers should have known that getting a blood sample without a warrant is unconstitutional, thus the good-faith exception should not apply. In Wisconsin, the Supreme Court feared that if they did not suppress the evidence then officers would never change their behavior, meaning that future defendants would continue facing similar unconstitutional search and seizure.
The Court in Nebraska decided that the officer behaved in a reasonable way in relying on existing state law that had not yet been deemed unconstitutional. As a result, the Court said that evidence of the man’s blood test should not be excluded from trial. This means that the man’s sentence, which included 60 days in jail, a $1,000 fine and a five-year license revocation will stand.
The defense attorney in the Nebraska case says he intends to appeal the issue all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The fact that states are so divided about the Birchfield case proves, according to him, that the Supreme Court needs to issue further clarification. The hope is that the Court agrees to hear his case to make clear to the states how to interpret its earlier ruling.
If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, please contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC. Our attorneys stand at the ready to defend you against state or federal charges. Please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.
About the Author
Brad Smith is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of criminal defense, DUI / DWI defense and traffic defense.
Mr. Smith was born and raised in Charlotte. He began his legal career as an Assistant District Attorney before entering private practice in 2006.
In his free time, Mr. Smith enjoys traveling, boating, golf, hiking and spending time with his wife and three children.
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