Note: We are crunching Supreme Court of Wisconsin decisions down to size. The rule for this is that no justice gets more than 10 paragraphs as written in the actual decision. The "upshot" and "background" sections do not count as part of the 10 paragraphs because of their summary and very necessary nature. We've also removed citations and footnotes from the opinion for ease of reading, but have linked to important cases cited or information about them. Italics indicate WJI insertions except for case names, which also are italicized.
The case: State of Wisconsin v. Valiant M. Green
Majority opinion: Justice Brian Hagedorn (7 pages), joined by Chief Justice Annette K. Ziegler and Justices Patience D. Roggensack, Rebecca Grassl Bradley, Rebecca F. Dallet, and Jill J. Karofsky
Dissent: Justice Ann Walsh Bradley (11 pages)
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides in relevant part: "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation . . . ." After Valiant M. Green was arrested for operating while intoxicated (OWI), law enforcement obtained a warrant to draw his blood. Green now argues the facts supporting that warrant were insufficient to find probable cause. We disagree.
Here, the circuit court issued a search warrant to draw Green's blood based on the affidavit of Kenosha Police Officer Mark Poffenberger. The affidavit took the form of a pre-printed document with blank spaces and check-boxes that Officer Poffenberger completed. It stated that around 1:19 p.m. on May 25, 2014, Green "drove or operated a motor vehicle at driveway of [Green's home address]" — the underlined portion being part of the preprinted form, and the remainder Officer Poffenberger's handwritten addition. Several checked boxes provided additional facts. First, Green was arrested for the offense of "Driving or Operating a Motor Vehicle While Impaired as a Second or Subsequent Offense, contrary to chapter 346 Wis.Stats." Second, Green "was observed to drive/operate the vehicle by" both "a police officer" and "a citizen witness," whose name was written in by Officer Poffenberger. A third checked box was labeled "basis for the stop of the arrestee's vehicle was," and Officer Poffenberger supplied "citizen statement" by hand.
The affidavit also described Green's statements and the officer's observations. According to Officer Poffenberger's handwritten note, Green "admitted to drinking alcohol at the house." And Officer Poffenberger checked several boxes noting that when he made contact with Green, he observed a strong odor of intoxicants, red/pink and glassy eyes, an uncooperative attitude, slurred speech, and an unsteady balance. Finally, Officer Poffenberger checked boxes indicating that Green refused to perform field sobriety tests, refused to submit to a preliminary breath test, and was "read the 'Informing the Accused' Statement . . . and has refused to submit to the chemical test requested by the police officer."
After the warrant issued, medical staff drew Green's blood. It revealed a blood alcohol level of 0.214 g/100 mL, an amount well above the legal limit. The State charged Green with fourth offense OWI, fourth offense operating with a prohibited alcohol concentration (PAC), and resisting an officer. Green moved to suppress the results of the blood draw on the grounds that the warrant was deficient. The circuit court denied the motion. It concluded that even if the court erroneously issued the warrant (the court thought it had), the error did not merit suppression. At trial, the jury found Green guilty of OWI and PAC. The circuit court granted the State's motion to dismiss the OWI count and entered judgment against Green on the PAC count. The court of appeals summarily affirmed, holding the circuit court properly issued the warrant in the first place. We granted Green's petition for review.
When we examine whether a warrant issued with probable cause, we review the record that was before the warrant-issuing judge. Specifically, we look at the affidavits supporting the warrant application and all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the facts presented. However, our review is not independent; we defer to the warrant-issuing judge's determination "unless the defendant establishes that the facts are clearly insufficient to support a probable cause finding." Probable cause exists where, after examining all the facts and inferences drawn from the affidavits, "there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place."
Before us, Green continues to argue the warrant was issued without probable cause. He focuses not on the indicia of intoxication, but the location where he operated his vehicle. Green's main argument is that the handwritten word "driveway" on the form alleges only that he drove within the confines of his driveway. This matters because the statute criminalizing OWI and PAC offenses — Wis. Stat. § 346.63(1)(a), (1)(b) — does "not apply to private parking areas at . . . single-family residences." Rather, the laws apply "upon highways" and "premises held out to the public for use of their motor vehicles." Green's driveway is not a highway nor is it a (sic) held out to the public for motor vehicle use. Thus, because Green would not have committed an OWI or PAC by operating his vehicle on his driveway, Green contends the affidavit alleged only noncriminal activity and fell short of showing probable cause that any criminal activity occurred.
Green's argument fails, however, because reasonable inferences from the affidavit support finding probable cause that Green drove on a public road. And that's all that is needed. "Probable cause is not a technical, legalistic concept but a flexible, common-sense measure of the plausibility of particular conclusions about human behavior." So when we examine a warrant application, the "test is not whether the inference drawn is the only reasonable inference." Rather, the "test is whether the inference drawn is a reasonable one." This warrant passes the test.
Following the pre-printed word "at" is space for a location, which Officer Poffenberger identified as the driveway of Green's residential address. It is reasonable to read the officer's addition of the phrase "driveway of [residential address]" to refer to a specific location on the road, much like an intersection would provide a similarly specific location. The affidavit does not say Green's driving occurred merely in his driveway, but at his driveway — a location that can reasonably be read to refer to a position on the road adjacent to his driveway. Other portions of the affidavit are consistent with this reading. The affidavit points to two witnesses who observed Green "drive/operate the vehicle": a police officer and a named citizen witness. And the stop was occasioned by a citizen statement; someone besides the officer saw something that occasioned a call to the police. Viewing the entire affidavit together, a judge could reasonably infer that Green operated his vehicle on the road while intoxicated, not solely in his driveway. This "is not the only inference that can be drawn, but it is certainly a reasonable one."
Examining the totality of the facts laid out in the affidavit, we conclude Green has not met his burden to show the affidavit was clearly insufficient to support a finding of probable cause. Accordingly, Green's challenge to the warrant and motion to suppress the evidence obtained thereby fails.
Confronted with the absence of probable cause here, the majority contrives to manufacture its presence. The affidavit in support of the warrant said that Green drove his car while intoxicated "at his driveway." But this isn't a crime. The law requires that one drive on a highway, and Green's private driveway obviously does not meet that requirement.
In retrospect, even the warrant-issuing judge in this case acknowledged that the facts alleged in the affidavit in support of the search warrant did not amount to probable cause. He recognized that "I did make an error in not frankly asking the officer" for "more data."
First, the majority errs by drawing several inferences from an affidavit that does not allege a crime has actually been committed. Wisconsin's OWI laws apply only to highways and "premises held out to the public for use of their motor vehicles." Such laws explicitly do not apply to "private parking areas" at single- family residences.
Despite the fact that the OWI statutes apply only on highways and not private roads or driveways, the majority insists that the handwritten "driveway" could "refer to a specific location on the road, much like an intersection would provide a similarly specific location." But the affidavit did not say "at the intersection" or "on the road adjacent to the driveway." The majority would have us believe that "at the driveway" does not mean what it says. How can it be reasonable to infer that a crime has been committed when the only reasonable inference that can be drawn from the affidavit is that Green was operating a vehicle at his own driveway?
Justice Bradley then provides in a table format specific facts upon which the majority relies for its reasonable inferences regarding probable cause and says that they all fail to reference or suggest any location other than Green's home or “at the driveway."
What do all of these facts have in common? None of them indicates that Green was observed operating a vehicle anywhere other than his private driveway. The majority's math doesn't add up — zero plus zero plus zero still equals zero. The majority pulls the reasonableness of its inferences out of thin air, seemingly assuming the existence of probable cause by the sole fact that law enforcement applied for a warrant.
Given the brevity of the majority opinion, there is an apparent limit to the analytical gymnastics that the majority is willing to engage in, endeavoring to explain that "at the driveway" somehow does not really mean what it says. Such flimsy rationale is inadequate when the court is depriving a defendant of a constitutional right. Why would the officer write in the word "driveway" if that is not precisely where Green was operating his vehicle?
All we can glean from the affidavit was that Green may have been drunk in his driveway, which is obviously not a crime. If Green had been driving on a highway near his home, the officer's handwritten inclusion of the word "driveway" would have been completely unnecessary.
Second, the majority disregards this court's decision in State v. Tye. In Tye, the court reviewed whether evidence must be suppressed when an affidavit lacks the oath or affirmation required by both the federal and state constitutions. In that case, the court determined "that the total absence of any statement under oath to support a search warrant violates the explicit oath or affirmation requirement of both the federal and state constitutions and that the warrant therefore is constitutionally infirm."
Like the oath or affirmation requirement, the probable cause requirement is "so basic to the Fourth Amendment that the Court simply can't look at it as a technical irregularity not affecting the substantial rights of the defendant." As was the result in Tye, the good faith exception does not apply and suppression is the appropriate remedy here because without the fulfillment of this essential search warrant requirement, "it is plainly evident that a magistrate or judge had no business issuing a warrant."
Green's Fourth Amendment right protecting him against unreasonable searches was violated when the police drew his blood based on a warrant that wholly lacked probable cause. The results of this unlawful search should have been suppressed. And even if suppression of the blood evidence would lead to results that may appear to the court as "unjust or contrary" to the state's policies on operating while intoxicated, "that does not give this court the leeway" to deprive Green of his constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches.
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