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SCOW: Subpoena for hospital records of defendant’s blood tests wasn’t tainted by prior unlawful warrantless blood draw

State v. Daniel J. Van Linn, 2022 WI 16, 3/24/22, affirming an unpublished court of appeals decision; case activity (including briefs)

After Van Linn refused to consent to a blood draw, police ordered one to be taken even though they didn’t have a warrant or exigent circumstances. After the circuit court suppressed the results of the test of this illegal blood draw, the state obtained the same evidence using a subpoena for Van Linn’s medical records. The supreme court holds that, under the “indepedent source” doctrine, the evidence obtained with the subpoena should not be suppressed even though the state sought the subpoena after the suppression of the same evidence obtained with the illegal blood draw.

Police found Van Linn injured and apparently intoxicated near the scene of an accident, and an ambulance took him to the hospital for treatment. At the hospital Van Linn refused an officer’s request that he consent to a blood draw. The officer didn’t get a warrant but ordered hospital staff to take a blood sample anyway. Van Linn moved to suppress. The circuit court rejected the state’s exigent circumstances justification and suppressed the results of the test, which showed a blood alcohol content over the legal limit. A few months later the state asked the court to approve a subpoena of Van Linn’s treatment records from the hospital. The court issued the subpoena and the hospital gave the state the records, which included the results of the hospital’s own BAC test. Van Linn then asked the court to suppress those as well, but it declined. (¶¶2-8).

Citing Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385 (1920), and Murray v. United States, 487 U.S. 533 (1988), Van Linn argues that the state’s decision to seek the subpoena was the fruit of its earlier, illegal blood draw, because the state was prompted to seek the subpoena by the court’s suppression of the illegally obtained evidence and was motivated to do so because it knew from the illegal search about the unlawful BAC. (¶9). A majority of SCOW disagrees:

¶11     …. Whenever the exclusionary rule applies, the scope of the remedy is limited to preventing the State from “profit[ing] from its illegal activity” without placing the State “in a worse position than it would otherwise have occupied” absent its illegal conduct. Murray, 487 U.S. at 542…. It follows that excluding illegally obtained evidence “does not mean that the facts thus obtained become sacred and inaccessible,” provided the State’s knowledge of them is gained from a source unrelated to the State’s illegal conduct. Silverthorne Lumber, 251 U.S. at 392.


¶15     Here,the State had ample reasons to subpoena Van Linn’s medical records for evidence of OWI, apart from what it learned from the deputy’s unlawful blood draw. At the accident scene, the deputy found Van Linn’s car crashed into the back of a cabin. His investigation revealed that Van Linn had veered off the road and into a ditch, where he hit a tree. The deputy smelled an “intoxicant” on Van Linn, and Van Linn admitted to having had “a couple of beers.” While Van Linn was en route to the hospital, the deputy also learned that Van Linn had a reduced BAC restriction of 0.02. Moreover, the deputy arrested Van Linn for OWI prior to conducting the unlawful blood draw. Similar to the agents’ unlawful entry in Murray, the testing results of the deputy’s unlawful blood draw “only served to confirm [the State’s] prior suspicions”: that Van Linn’s BAC was over the legal limit. …. Stated differently, the State’s decision to subpoena Van Linn’s medical records was not prompted by what it learned from the deputy’s unlawful blood draw. See Murray, 487 U.S. at 541.7

¶16     Granted, the State did not subpoena Van Linn’s medical records until after the circuit court suppressed the deputy’s unlawful blood draw. Van Linn argues that the State’s subpoena is therefore the “direct result” of the deputy’s unlawful conduct because, but for that conduct, there would have been nothing for the circuit court to suppress. And but for the circuit court’s suppression decision, the State would not have subpoenaed the hospital. We hold that, despite the timing of the State’s subpoena request, suppression is not justified for two reasons.

¶17     First, in the exclusionary-rule context, the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the strict but-for causality Van Linn presses here. See Wong Sun [v. United States], 371 U.S. [471,] 487–88 [(1963)] (evidence should not be excluded “simply because it would not have come to light but for the illegal actions of the police”)…. The “more apt question” for whether the exclusionary rule applies is: did the State “exploit[]” the deputy’s unlawful conduct? See Wong Sun, 371 U.S. at 487–88. In this case, the State did not exploit the deputy’s illegal conduct because, as explained above, the State had reasonable grounds to suspect Van Linn of OWI prior to anyone drawing his blood. ….

¶18     Second, suppressing the hospital’s blood-test results would not further the purpose of the exclusionary rule, which is to deter police misconduct. The circuit court’s suppression of the deputy’s warrantless blood draw remedied the police misconduct in this case. Suppressing the hospital’s diagnostic blood test, however, would have no further deterrent effect because it involved no police conduct at all, let alone misconduct. …. Moreover, suppressing the hospital’s blood test runs counter to the exclusionary rule because it would put the State in a worse position than it occupied absent the deputy’s unlawful conduct…. See Murray, 487 U.S. at 537–38.

A dissenting justice (A.W. Bradley) disputes the majority’s application of the independent source doctrine. First, the conclusion that the state did not “exploit” the illegal search because it had “reasonable grounds” to suspect Van Linn of OWI before any blood draw “answers the wrong question, obscuring the true inquiry of whether the unconstitutional search ‘prompted’ the subpoena.” (¶¶25-26, 36-40). Second, the belief that suppressing the evidence obtained by the subpoena would have no effect on police misconduct insulates law enforcement from the consequences of its unconstitutional actions. (¶¶25-26, 41-52). Instead, the court should send the message to police to “[g]et a warrant” and prevent Fourth Amendment violations, which is the purpose of the exclusionary rule. (¶¶23-24).

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Ramón Valdez April 11, 2022, 11:36 am

    So much for the SCOW protecting 4th Amendment violations and curtailing abusive, unconstitutional police practices and undermining authority for the law. When the “law enforcers” can break the law without consequences, public trust is eroded.

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