Roadside blood tests?
A new federal program run through
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may soon make it legal and commonplace for cops nationwide to forcibly take blood samples from drivers
suspected of driving while intoxicated.
The program, now being piloted in Idaho
and Texas, was designed as an attempt to combat suspected drunk drivers who refuse to take breathalyzer tests. Often, the lack of evidence forces the drunk
driving case to go to trial — a long and expensive process.
Although a number of states have proposed
mandatory sentences, such as driver's license suspension, for those who refuse
to take breathalyzers, 22 percent of suspected drunk drivers still refuse the
test nationally, according to a NHTSA study.
Given the difficulty of trying to
force a suspect to breathe into the breathalyzer tube, the NHTSA and law
enforcement officials are working together to test what they perceive as a
better solution — forcing drunk and drugged driving suspects into giving over
their blood for lab testing to determine levels of intoxication.
The invasive practice drums up a
number of important questions. At a basic level, one wonders how penetrating
the veins of an innocent-until-proven-guilty suspect and extracting a bodily
possession from them against their will is not unconstitutional? How is this
not an illegal search and seizure, as protected by the Fourth Amendment?
Amazingly, according to a 1966
Supreme Court ruling, the practice was deemed constitutional so long as the
blood draw was based on probable cause that the suspect was in fact
intoxicated, that it was done after arrest, and that is was executed in a
medically approved manner.
Of course, the argument does not
entirely hold up within the context of this new federal pilot program. For one,
the police officers in Idaho and Texas that are part of this new program are
drawing blood from suspects in various scenarios. While
they are trained quickly to do this, anyone who has been in the hospital for a
few days can tell you that even the best trained nurses often can't seem to
find a vein on the first try. As a result, the suspect, who is still innocent
in our courts of law at this point, would be involuntarily subjected to
multiple puncture wounds at the whim of an unsupervised police officer.
Does anyone else find this a
Over the years, we've all laid
witness to abuses of power and incidents of brutality by police officers. Are
we to assume that by granting them additional rights to invade a person's body
against their will on a mere hunch, we'll all miraculously become a safer,
better society? Are we to assume that some officers won't use this new power
for the mere intentional infliction of emotional distress, or simply liberally
apply the technique without just cause? How would you feel having to give blood
after having just one drink that night?
It's amazing what many are willing
to give up of their civil liberties in the name of security. Say what you will
about warrantless wiretapping — also investigative action on a hunch — at least it
didn't involve penetrating the innards of human beings.
Another important question that
arises over this program has to do with the varying medical reactions many have
to needles, blood draws and blood loss. Such reactions may include vomiting,
nausea, dizziness, fainting, and undue psychological distress, all of which can
cause more serious medical problems these officers are not trained or equipped
to handle that we as taxpayers will end up paying for after the lawsuits are
It's not difficult to picture a
scenario in which a suspect is held down for a blood draw that causes him to
vomit. But a restrained person, unable to move and pinned down onto his own
back, could vomit into his own lungs and asphyxiate or die from the bacteria
exposure. Similarly, a fainting person could strike their head, which would be
all the more deadly if they did in fact have alcohol in their system, as their
alcohol-thinned blood would bleed out more profusely. And of course there is
the issue of medical sanitation, wound care, potential for infection, and the
possibility of sample mix-ups and mislabeling, both in the field and in the
While few can argue that drunk and
drugged driving isn't a major problem in this country, the answer to keeping
others on the road safe does not lie in the hands of a police officer with road
rage, shaky hands, restraints, and a long syringe. If a driver is unwilling to
blow into a Breathalyzer, they ought to have their license suspended for a
mandatory period. This would keep repeat offenders off the roads. If new
methods of testing are in fact needed, our resources should go towards
non-invasive methods, like saliva sampling or a pupil dilation scan, that does
not imbue our society with more opportunities for police brutality or violations
of personal privacy rights. If we
are to profess to be the freest country in the world, we need to walk the talk.