The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety is working to certify up to 100 law enforcement officers to draw blood from suspected DUI drivers.
GOHS has implemented a new program for law enforcement officers to become certified in phlebotomy practices. The first class begins on October 4th and will be comprised of troopers, Georgia State Patrol Night Hawks, and members of the H.E.A.T teams.
Under Georgia law, law enforcement can only obtain a blood draw of a suspected DUI driver if an individual consents, if a search warrant is obtained. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that police can draw blood evidence when a suspected drunken or drugged driver is unconscious as well.
The need, authorities say, is because blood tests are more accurate than breathalyzers. Advocates have also said that the latest Covid-19 surge has EMS and hospitals overwhelmed, oftentimes leading to a delay in a blood draw. With alcohol, the content in the blood decreases by 0.0125-0.015 grams per hour. Plus, breathalyzers do not measure the presence of drugs.
The Director of GOHS, Rogers Hayes, told Fox5 Atlanta that “The point of this is to get drunk drivers off the road, impaired drivers off the road. There are so many other impairments, prescription drugs and illegal drugs as well as alcohol so the blood will help us test for all of those things.”
Hayes also said it could work as a deterrent and encourage voluntary compliance if drivers know law enforcement can quickly gather evidence.
Opponents of the practice say blood draws outside of a traditional medical setting are “unhygienic and that e-warrants could infringe on an individual’s rights,” which has been a point of contention for involuntary blood draws for years. An issue arises when the focus is collecting evidence as opposed to performing a medical procedure, they say.
“There’s an absolute potential for a dilution of a citizen’s constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure when it’s done that way,” Donald Ramsell said in a PEW article. Ramsell is a DUI attorney and Illinois Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers board member. “A judge can just wake up in his bedroom and hit ‘accept’ [on his device] and go back to sleep.”
Additionally, critics say allowing officers to draw blood is a liability for the officer and the agency, regardless of certification. The certification is generally in ‘venipuncture,’ which varies from the more in-depth practice of phlebotomy.
In 2016, U.S Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the Birchfield v. North Dakota opinion that breath tests aren’t significant privacy intrusions but that blood tests involve piercing of the skin. He also said that a blood sample can be stored and analyzed for reasons and information well beyond what can be found in a breath sample.
Several other states allow trained officers to draw the blood of DUI suspects, including Arizona, Minnesota, and Washington.
Impaired driving kills and injures thousands of Americans every year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says alcohol-related crashes claimed 10,874 lives in 2017.