A person’s driver’s license can be suspended or revoked for numerous reasons in Washington. Depending on the type of suspension, the person may be eligible for an Ignition Interlock License or some other restricted driver’s license. While the law requires a person to be notified that there license is suspended, depending on the situation, it can be difficult to determine whether a person’s license is valid or not. Fortunately, the Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) has a handy online tool where a driver can check the status of their license in real time.
While this online tool is helpful, during my career as a criminal defense attorney, I have learned that this tool is not always accurate and sometimes displays false information. For instance, I recently had a client whose license was suspended but believed they had obtained a valid Ignition Interlock License. I looked into this client’s situation and confirmed they had done everything that was necessary to obtain this valid license. However, when the client looked up the status of their license at DOL’s online status check, it showed that the client’s Ignition Interlock License was not valid. If this were true, it would mean the client could be arrested for Driving with a License Suspended Second Degree at any moment, have their car impounded, and booked into jail. The client was obviously concerned with whether their license was valid or not.
I contacted DOL who confirmed my client had a valid Ignition Interlock License despite what DOL’s online status check showed. The DOL representative did not have an explanation for why the online feature shows my client’s license was not valid. Moreover, this was not a temporary computer glitch but the false information had been displayed for several months. I asked if police officers (who check the status of a person’s license from their patrol vehicle) would also be provided this false information and the DOL representative responded that law enforcement receives their mobile data from a separate network than the internet based status checks. So in theory, that should not be a problem.
It is concerning that DOL’s driver’s status check is not always accurate. People rely on this feature to determine if they are legal to drive. What if the online status check says a person’s license is valid when in fact it is suspended. That person would rely on that information and drive, only to be arrested by law enforcement who is provided with other information. The lack of accuracy could lead to false arrests and law suits against DOL.
City of Lakewood Police recently announced that a number of their officers have received certifications so the police officer (rather than a nurse at a hospital) can draw blood from a DUI suspect. One may wonder how, legally, a police officer can forcibly take a suspects blood against their will? RCW 46.61.506(5) defines who may take a blood draw following a DUI arrest and states the blood draw may be “performed only by a physician licensed under chapter 18.71 RCW; an osteopathic physician licensed under chapter 18.57 RCW; a registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, or advanced registered nurse practitioner licensed under chapter 18.79 RCW; a physician assistant licensed under chapter 18.71A RCW; an osteopathic physician assistant licensed under chapter 18.57A RCW; an advanced emergency medical technician or paramedic licensed under chapter 18.73 RCW; until July 1, 2016, a health care assistant certified under *chapter 18.135 RCW; or a medical assistant-certified or medical assistant-phlebotomist certified under chapter 18.360 RCW.” So, anyone on earth may conceivably perform the blood draw, so long as they meet the requirements under the statute. Lakewood Police indicate that they have received a $50,000 grant from the Traffic Safety Commission that was used to allow six officers to obtain medical phlebotomy certification through Bates Technical College and the state Department of Health.
While in theory, a person could voluntarily consent to a blood draw, or an exigent circumstance could exist that permits the blood draw without a search warrant. However, in reality, for most situations, the police must obtain a search warrant approved by a judge before they conduct a blood draw. In this day and age, this is not difficult for the police to do as judges are on call at all hours of the day. Once a search warrant is obtained, the police may take the blood draw regardless of cooperation from the suspect. They may strap the person to a table to do so, if necessary. Police typically choose to request a search warrant for a blood draw if a person refuses to submit to the less intrusive breath alcohol test (i.e. blowing into an instrument). However, even if a person submits to a breath test, police could still obtain a search warrant to draw a person’s blood for a variety of reasons. For one, blood tests are generally viewed as a more accurate reading of a person’s blood alcohol level and only blood tests can detect drugs, such as marijuana, in a person’s blood.
As some have noted, just because one has obtained the proper certification to draw blood does not mean that a person is good at it. Anyone who has ever provided a blood sample at a hospital can appreciate a technician, who takes blood samples all day long, and is good at finding a vein and drawing blood with minimal discomfort. Also, it seems only a matter of time before a DUI suspect claims the Lakewood officer who drew their blood screwed up in some way, causing damages, and sues the officer and City of Lakewood for damages. For now, City of Lakewood seems willing to take this risk because allowing officers to take blood will speed up the entire DUI arrest process.