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Roadside blood draws: Can the police really do that?

Posted by Albert Hansen | Jul 26, 2019 | 0 Comments

Police in certain states are taking roadside blood samples to catch impaired drivers, and it is causing a great deal of controversy. Currently, Maine is one of nine states in the U.S. with law enforcement phlebotomy programs. Other states include: 

  • Rhode Island
  • Pennsylvania
  • Indiana
  • Minnesota
  • Ohio
  • Utah
  • Arizona
  • Washington State

These nine states have active programs, and other states are looking into it. In 2017, alcohol-related crashed killed 10,874 people in the United States. Unfortunately, there is no accurate information on the number of drug-related deaths. This is because the reporting requirements differ from state to state; therefore, not all states test deceased drivers for drugs. However, in the states that do test deceased drivers, 44 percent tested positive for drugs. These statistics are scaring law enforcement agencies to implement roadside blood sample programs.

What is involved in a roadside blood sample? 

If a driver is pulled over, and the officer suspects that they are impaired, a field sobriety test and a breathalyzer would be performed. If the breathalyzer shows that the driver has not been drinking, a DUI van would be dispatched so that the driver's blood can be drawn. If the driver refuses, the officer can send an electronic warrant to a judge on call, which would force the driver to allow the officer to draw their blood. A warrant is necessary because, in 2016, the United States Supreme Court ruled that officers don't need a warrant if the driver refuses a breathalyzer, but they do for a blood draw because the process pierces the skin. 

Why the controversy?

These on-site blood tests raise concerns for various reasons.  First, since the blood draws are performed in a van, and not a sterile medical setting, the draws can be considered unhygienic and can result in infection.

Also, because police officers are not licensed medical professionals, and they are drawing blood from potential suspects, the driver's pain level might not be their top priority. The driver's pain level or hitting a vein won't be as important to the officer as getting the proof that they need to make an arrest.

Finally, many people believe that an electronic warrant violates the driver's rights. The judges who sign these warrants are on call. If the judge is sleeping when the warrant comes through at 3 am, people wonder how awake and lucid the judge actually is when signing the warrant. This has caused further issues.

Why isn't the hospital good enough? 

Law enforcement agencies believe that roadside blood draws are more effective than taking the driver to the hospital after their arrest for a blood draw. It can take up to two hours for the officer to get the driver to the hospital to have their blood drawn. During this time, the drug will have had a chance to leave their system.

Also, since fewer people are handling the sample, it can help with the chain of custody issues. Law enforcement officials believe that roadside draws are more accurate and keep things organized, making it easier to convict. While it may seem like common sense to law enforcement, there is reason to understand how the procedure can be abused and a clear violation of the driver's civil rights. 

Those who are against roadside blood draws have issues other than the officer's ability to draw blood and the judge's ability to sign the warrant clearly. There is also the issue with probable cause for the roadside stop. If the police have no probable cause to suspect drunk or impaired driving, they have no legal reason for pulling the driver off the road.

If you are pulled over in the state of Maine and have been subjected to a roadside blood sample test, give our office a call. We can schedule a consultation to discuss your case. Our attorneys have extensive knowledge of the blood sample draw laws in the state, and we can address any questions or issues that you might have.

About the Author

Albert Hansen

DWI, OUI, superior and district court cases, domestic violence, habitual offender, all motor vehicle/license cases, felonies, misdemeanors and violations, as well as divorce/domestic relations are the areas of practice for Attorney Albert Hansen.  Al Hansen is a 1991 graduate of Bates College, fo...


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