I have had two new clients within the past month ask me this question in disbelief. Does the law actually allow law enforcement officers to force a Washington State driver to be held down while a police officer forcibly sticks a needle in their arm to take blood? It may be hard to believe, but the answer is Yes.
Why would a police officer want to subject a DUI arrestee to a forced blood draw?, Simply put, to obtain evidence that a driver was under the influence. In the absence of a breath or blood alcohol test, the government is going to have a far more difficult time proving the driver was affected by alcohol. While the accuracy of breath and blood tests should ALWAYS be challenged, the presence of such makes the prosecutor's job much easier.
According to the September 26th, 2015 amendment to RCW 46.61.506(4), “Nothing in subsections (1), (2), or (3) of this section precludes a law enforcement officer from obtaining a person's blood to test for alcohol, marijuana, or any drug, pursuant to a search warrant…, or under any other authority of law. Any blood drawn for the purpose of determining the person's alcohol, marijuana levels, or any drug, is drawn pursuant to this section when the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the person is in physical control or driving a vehicle under the influence or in violation of 46.61.503…
In Washington State, those arrested for DUI are usually asked to provide a samples of their breath to determine their alcohol concentration. If breath test samples are properly administered and validly obtained, both criminal and administrative repercussions may very well occur. In the event that a Washington State DUI arrestee refuses to provide a sample of their breath, more severe criminal and administrative repercussions can occur.
However, in 2005 a case that originated out of Seattle Municipal Court confirmed that law enforcement officers could forcibly obtain a Washington State DUI arrestee's blood without a subject's consent. On July 24, 2005, Robert St. John crashed his motorcycle in Seattle. Officer Eric Michl, of the Seattle Police Department, ultimately placed Mr. St. John under arrest for DUI at Harborview Hospital. After being advised of the Implied Consent Warnings, which explain, among other things, the consequences of refusing a Blood Alcohol test, St. John refused to provide a sample. Officer Michl subsequently contacted a judge to sign a Search Warrant to forcibly take St. John's blood even though the arrestee had been told that he had the right to refuse. Further, St. John had not been informed that his blood could be drawn even if he refused. It should be noted that Officer Michl is, without question, one of the best DUI law enforcement officers in the state. Not only does he routinely conduct thorough DUI investigations, but he is as fair and honest of a law enforcement officer that one will fine.
While the municipal court initially found that Officer Michl's procedure was unfair and illegal, the superior court reversed, and the supreme court affirmed that the officer's actions were fair and legal. Specifically, the court held that, "Obtaining a blood alcohol test through the implied consent statute is a separate process from obtaining a blood alcohol test pursuant to a warrant, and the officer made no representation to St. John that the state could not obtain a blood alcohol test pursuant to a lawful search warrant," Justice Susan Owens wrote for the majority. Further, the majority cited a 2004 legislative amendment stating "neither consent nor this section precludes a police officer from obtaining a search warrant for a person's breath or blood." Because focusing on this provision would allow for the "efficient" conviction of those accused of DUI, the high court found no problem with Officer Michl's conduct.
Keep in mind though that law enforcement officers won't always contact a judge in an attempt to obtain a blood draw. Certain police departments will rarely, if ever, seek a warrant to draw blood; whereas other departments will do so routinely. In other words, it just depends.
There are several ways to challenge both the admissibility and accuracy of Blood evidence. However, DUI charges are regularly the toughest gross misdemeanor charges to fight in Washington State. This is why it is imperative that you retain an attorney who focuses solely in DUI defense. A lawyer who is extremely knowledgeable, extensively trained, and one who is going to do everything in their power to resolve your matter in the most favorable light possible is an absolute necessity. If you or someone you know has been arrested for DUI in Washington State, contact Veitch Ault & Associates immediately (425-452-1600) to make sure one is given the best chance to defend themselves.