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State's Attorney: Initiative Could Speed Up DUI Arrest Process

Officers now have the option of bringing an on-call phlebotomist to the police department to take a driver's blood to determine his or her blood alcohol content (BAC), speeding up the arrest process. DUI attorney says initiative is problematic.

In an effort to crack down on drivers suspected of driving under the influence, DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin announced a new protocol Tuesday that will provide law enforcement with the option of bringing in an on-call phlebotomist, someone licensed to draw blood, to speed up the process of determining a driver's BAC.

“The average rate of elimination of alcohol in a person is .015 - .020 grams per milliliters per hour,” Berlin said in a statement. “Consequently, in any DUI investigation, time is of the essence in obtaining evidence of a subject’s blood alcohol content or BAC.”

Drivers now have the choice to refuse a breathalyzer, and officers have the option of taking the driver to a hospital for a blood draw to determine their BAC, which could take hours, according to a press release from the State's Attorney's Office. 

DUI Attorney Donald Ramsell said that transporting a driver suspected of DUI to a hospital for a blood draw never takes hours. "I've handled hundreds of cases... I guarantee, time of admission (to blood drawn) has never gone more than an hour... (The) average is probably 30 minutes." 

Under Berlin’s new initiative, officers will have the option of contacting a private phlebotomist company that will, within one hour, provide a state licensed and trained phlebotomist to draw the motorist’s blood at the local police department. Phlebotomists will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to the release.

“By reducing the time between arrests and blood draws we are able to obtain a much more accurate BAC of the offender at the time of arrest,” Berlin said in a statement. “This will allow for a stronger prosecution of suspected DUI drivers. In addition, it will also free up our patrol officers from spending hours in a hospital with the offender and allow them to get back on the streets faster.”

Ramsell said there are “several problems” with Berlin’s initiative.

According to a 1966 Supreme Court ruling, blood draws should only take place in medical facilities, Ramsell said. The Schmerber v. California case ruled that blood drawn in any place other than a medical facility could invite an "unjustified element of personal risk of infection and pain."

Ramsell said blood draws in police stations could raise questions from the Center for Disease Control, as stations aren’t prepped to prevent infectious diseases. 

“Don’t kid yourself—It’s (police station) not anywhere near (the) regulations a medical facility is under,” he said. “I question whether that should happen in the back room of a police station.”

He said the public policy question of treatment of arrestees could also change, as most hospital personnel would not use force against someone refusing to get their blood drawn, but replacing registered nurses, paramedics and physicians with officers, sergeants and jailors as witnesses, he said, “it’ll shift how we treat people in custody.

“I believe most people would agree—even if they are, possibly and probably guilty—(they) are entitled to have this issue monitored by medical (professionals),” he said. "What are we going to do next—pump their stomachs?"

The use of a private phlebotomist, Berlin said, would be an "invaluable" tool in gathering evidence in a DUI investigation in a timely and efficient manner.

The cost associated with Berlin’s new initiative will be the responsibility of the offender, according to the release.

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