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COA upholds circuit court’s finding of an “unlawful” refusal

State v. Bryson Keith Williams, 2023AP838, 10/4/23, District II (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

Applying the familiar test for assessing the adequacy of the officer’s reading of the implied consent warnings, COA agrees that Williams’ refusal was unlawful.

While Wisconsin law permits the imposition of a driver’s license revocation as a consequence for refusing to comply with a request that the driver submit to a chemical test for intoxication, the State is only authorized to impose that sanction if the arresting officer “adequately” informs the driver “of his or her rights prior to the refusal.” (¶7). Wisconsin specifically mandates that the officer must convey the information contained in the “Informing the Accused” form. §343.305(4).  In this case, Williams argues that the arresting officer failed to comply with these mandates and, hence, his refusal was not “unlawful.” (¶8). Applying de novo review, COA uses the three-prong test set out in County of Ozaukee v. Quelle to resolve Williams’ legal claim. (¶9).

As to the first prong–whether the officer complied with the statutory implied consent warnings–“it is undisputed that [the officer] read the form verbatim.” (¶10). Next, COA must determine whether the officer supplied extra information that was “false or otherwise misleading.” (¶11). Here, Williams zeroes in on the officer’s remark that “not all parts of the form would apply to Williams.” (Id.). COA, however, disagrees that this was an inaccurate comment as not all portions of the statutorily-required warnings applied to Williams’ specific situation (such as references to an accident or the operation of a commercial motor vehicle). (Id.). Reviewing the form, COA is satisfied that “the form itself made clear that there were inapplicable alternative scenarios, and an officer has no duty to explain the form.” (Id.). It therefore rejects Williams’ argument that he was left guessing at which portions of the form did apply to him, finding that the necessary information was all conveyed by the officer. (Id.).

Finally, as to the third prong of the test–whether the officer’s “error” impacted the motorist’s decision to refuse a test–COA holds that Williams failed to satisfy his burden of proof and therefore affirms. (¶13).

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