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.