December 6, 2010

Colorado Supreme Court decision 11-22-10

People v. Wehmas             Warrantless Arrest & Search in a Home / Exigent Circumstances
Synopsis: The prosecution alleged Mr. Wehmas drove his car drunk, hit another car, and went into his apartment without exchanging information. Someone called the police to report the accident, and snitch on Mr. Wehmas. The police never sought a warrant. Instead, the police forced their way into his apartment, and arrested Mr. Wehmas when he was asleep in his bed.
Issues: The Court took cert. on two issues
1)    Whether DUI is a grave offense that can justify a warrantless search and arrest in someone’s home?
2)    Whether dissipation of a person’s blood alcohol content is a sufficient exigency to justify a warrantless arrest and search of someone inside their home?
Held: 1) Yes, the Court found DUI to be a grave offense.  2) However, the Court found no such exigency exited to justify not obtaining a warrant.
            Grave Offense: In Welsh v. Wisconsin, 466 U.S. 740, 750, 104 S.Ct. 2091, 80 L.Ed.2d 732 (1984), Mr. Welsh allegedly drove drunk, drove off the road, crashed his car in a field, and abandoned the vehicle. The U.S. Supreme Court held that whatever a grave offense maybe, it was not Mr. Welsh’s alleged DUI. The Colorado Supreme Court differentiated Mr. Wehmas’s case from Welsh. The Colorado Supreme Court found that the U.S. Supreme Court held DUI as not a grave offense because Wisconsin classifies a first-time DUI as a non-criminal offense, non-jailable offense. The Colorado Supreme Court then went on to claim that the U.S. Supreme Court came up with a bright-line rule to define whether something is a “grave offense” – whether or not jail is a possibility. Because a first-time DUI in Colorado carries some possibility of jail, the Colorado Supreme Court held that DUI is indeed a ‘grave offense’.
            Exigent Circumstances: Thank the sweet baby Jesus however, the Colorado Supreme Court held no exigent circumstances existed to justify the warrantless arrest and search of Mr. Wehmas. The Court specifically addressed why dissipation of alcohol in Mr. Wehmas’s blood did not justify a warrantless arrest of him in his home.  The Court cited other evidence besides a chemical test, such as extrapolation based upon a BAC test and two eyewitnesses who stated Mr. Wehmas was drunk. Further, the Court found that Colorado couldn’t force a chemical test of someone’s blood when no there is no harm to a victim or violence alleged. Accordingly, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the District Court and County Court below which originally suppressed the evidence.

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