RACINE — A Racine man whose 2015 homicide conviction was overturned due to an improper blood draw pleaded guilty to a reduced charge Thursday and was sentenced to time served.
Dartavian D. Watson, 23, pleaded guilty to a felony count of felony homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle. A felony count of injury by intoxicated use of a vehicle was dismissed outright, while two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety were dismissed, but considered for sentencing purposes.
The original charges stemmed from an October 2015 crash in which Watson was driving, failed to stop at the intersection of West Sixth Street and Mound Avenue and crashed into a building, according to a criminal complaint. The crash killed 25-year-old Racine resident Robert Johnson.
At the scene, Watson was read an informing-the-accused form that stated that if he were to refuse blood testing, his operating privileges would be revoked. He then consented to a blood draw and was later found to have marijuana in his system and a blood-alcohol level of 0.11 percent.
According to the Court of Appeals, because Watson was told that “refusing a chemical test would result in license revocation, a consequence to which Watson was not subject,” the blood draw was deemed coerced. The conviction was overturned and the results of his blood draw were suppressed.
Richards said when Watson was originally sentenced to five years in prison, five years extended supervision on July 6, 2017, his client accepted the sentence, responsibility and was ready to move on.
The morning after Watson was convicted, the Wisconsin Supreme Court case made a ruling on a case — State v. Blackman — that was identical to an argument Richards had mitigated before Racine County Circuit Court Judge Mark Nielsen on Watson’s behalf due to his blood draw.
In the Fond du Lac case, Adam Blackman was driving on July 22, 2013, when he struck and injured a bicyclist. Blackman did not exhibit any signs of impaired driving, but was asked for a blood test.
Blackman was also read the Informing the Accused form, which stated that should he refuse the blood test, his “operating privileges will be revoked.”
The Supreme Court of Wisconsin ruled that because “a driver who was not suspected of a drunk-driving offense would prevail at a refusal hearing and his operating privilege would not be revoked,” Blackman’s consent was coerced into providing a blood sample.
In June 2018, the Court of Appeals ruled that same principle applies to Watson’s case.
Richards told the court he was the one who suggested to Watson that he appeal his conviction.
“I’ve been doing this for over 30 years and this is only the second time ever that I’ve seen the state — not Mr. Jensen — but the Attorney General’s office summarily concede that it was improper under the current state law,” Richards said.
Assistant District Attorney Dirk Jensen emphasized that Watson’s actions were serious, given that they caused the death of Johnson.
“We have some really irresponsible, stupid behavior that was compounded tremendously by the fact that someone was killed as a result of that behavior,” Jensen said.
Jensen, however, credited Watson for taking responsibility for his actions throughout the process. He recommended a sentence of seven years, split between 2 years, 10 months incarceration — time Watson has already served — and four years, two months extended supervision.
“This is a very serious event, very serious situation, but I think if you add in the aggravating and mitigating factors … the recommendation is appropriate,” Jensen said.
Richards agreed with the state’s recommendation, noting that Watson has no juvenile record and only one prior obstructing charge, in which he successfully completed a year of probation.
He said his client played basketball, graduated high school, attended community college and found a job after being released from prison last month for the first time in almost three years. “The proof will be in his actions going forward,” Richard said.
Racine County Circuit Court Judge Emily Mueller sentenced Watson to time served on the new charges, but extended the length of supervision to five years.
She also barred Watson from drinking or controlled substances during that time, told him to maintain employment and ordered him to restitution in the amount of $2,000.
“It is always frightening when someone has been involved in an accident — whether reckless or alcohol related — that kills a person, and the fear always is you may do this again,” Mueller said. “I’m satisfied that this is not behavior that you are going in engage in again.”