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COA holds entry into home valid community-caretaker act; blood draw was exigency

State v. Shannon G. Potocnik, 2019AP523, 4/14/20, District 3 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication) case activity (including briefs)

There’s a deep split nationwide about whether the community caretaker doctrine can ever permit entry into a home. Wisconsin has held that it can, and this pro se appeal is of course necessarily fact-bound. But the decision is thorough and provides a good summary of state community-caretaker law as it stands, along with a much briefer discussion of blood draws based on exigency.

The facts are that the police were called to a pretty spectacular one-car accident and, after spending an hour looking for a driver (living or dead) they concluded he wasn’t on the scene.  Having learned the vehicle’s registered owner’s address, an officer went there and saw a light on inside. Eventually, he saw a man he recognized as the vehicle owner walking around naked in the house, but the man wouldn’t respond to his repeated calls to open the door. The court holds that his entry to check on the man was justified by the reasonable fear that he could be seriously injured:

Schuett reasonably inferred that Potocnik drove the truck involved in the accident and that he had been ejected from that vehicle. Schuett heard Potocnik moaning as if in pain and observed that Potocnik failed to respond to Schuett’s repeated knocking and announcements. Schuett could reasonably infer that Potocnik was suffering from a traumatic head injury (such as a concussion) or other injury that would not necessarily have produced blood at the scene or on his body. Common sense dictates that time is of the essence to acquire medical attention for individuals who may have sustained a head or other injury. These facts, taken together, raise more than mere speculation; they raise a reasonable inference that Potocnik was injured and needed immediate medical assistance. Thus, although we agree with Potocnik that some of the facts presented to Schuett could have permitted an inference that Potocnik did not need medical attention, we conclude, when viewing the situation’s entirety, that Schuett reasonably determined that the situation was exigent.

(¶32).

Regarding the blood draw, the court rejects Potocnik’s argument that because the time of the crash was not precisely known, the officer couldn’t reasonably conclude that the additional delay of getting a warrant wouldn’t result in loss of evidence. It observes that the hour-long search on the scene, plus the process of getting Potocnik out of his home, put the officer up against the three-hour automatic-admissibility limit by the time they arrived at the hospital.

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