Forced Blood Draws in DUI Investigations: The Buck Stops Here!

On July 26th, an arrest in Utah caught national attention and is now under the investigation of the FBI. Officer Jeff Payne aggressively arrested University of Utah Hospital nurse Alex Wubbels after she refused to allow the officer to draw the blood of a patient. Officer Payne grew agitated after being repeatedly told his desire to draw blood from the unconscious patient was against the law and hospital policy. Eventually, the officer violently dragged the nurse out of the hospital and placed her under arrest.

Potential Violation of Hospital and Department Policies

According to hospital policy, a number of circumstances must be met in order for police to draw blood. The suspect must either be placed under arrest, give consent, or the officer must have a court order to draw blood. This incident met none of these circumstances. The Salt Lake City Mayor and Police Department issued an apology. They further said that the officer violated a number of city and department policies, including violations to arrest procedures, officer conduct, and ethics. The two officers involved in the incident have been placed on administrative leave during the investigation, and Officer Payne was suspended from the department’s blood drawing unit and fired from his part time paramedic job.

It is clear the officer in this instance violated or wished to violate a number of civil rights of those involved. Nurse Wubbels was eventually released from police custody without charges. The patient’s blood was never drawn as he was unable to give consent due to being unconscious, was not under arrest, and officers did not have a court order. However, it begs the question: what are your rights if you are involved in such an instance?

Law Supported By Supreme Court Case

Police are never allowed to forcibly draw your blood if you are not under arrest, do not give consent, or they do not have a court order. This was reinforced in 2016 by the Supreme Court case Birchfield v. North Dakota in which the court ruled blood tests were too invasive to force anyone not under arrest to be subjected to. The court upheld officer’s ability to conduct breath tests without a warrant or without arresting a suspect in Driving Under the Influence cases. As this is a Supreme Court decision, this ruling is binding throughout the country and every police officer subject to abide by it when investigating a DUI or DWI.

DC Holds Specific Guidelines

In the District of Columbia, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has specific guidelines that members of the police force must follow when interacting with people in their custody in the context of injury, illness, and in hospital settings. The most important thing to be aware of is that you have a constitutional right to immediate medical attention. Police officers cannot limit, interfere, or delay medical treatment if you request it. According to the Medical Treatment and Hospitalization of Prisoners [General Order 502.07], the guidelines that dictate police conduct regarding medical treatment, a police officer must, “immediately notify an official and request appropriate medical assistance when they become aware that a prisoner is injured or reporting illness”. Upon arrest, you have the right to request medical attention, and officers must comply with your request even when an officer may suspect the individual was driving while impaired.

When you are brought to a hospital, whether newly arrested or after a period of imprisonment, officers must follow the guidelines of General Order 502.07. Officers must maintain the integrity of all medical devices found on your person at all times. This includes Life Alerts, medical ID bracelets, or other signifiers. At no time may officers remove these items upon arrest. Once at the hospital, officers have a number of instructions with how they may and may not interact with patients. This includes restraining at least one leg or arm (or more if the officers deem it necessary) of the patient at all times, unless this restraint interferes with medical treatment. Furthermore, patients in MPD custody are not allowed to receive visitors, make phone calls, or watch TV. There must be at least two officers watching the patient at all times; however, if the patient is violent or shown signs of attempting to escape, then more officers may be assigned. Lastly, officers must fill out a specific form that details the patient’s injuries or health issues, photographs must be taken, and the form must be completed with “sufficient” information, including the location of physical injuries.

Guidelines Still Apply If Imprisoned

If you are imprisoned, these guidelines still apply. During intake, all prisoners go through a routine health assessment, which includes physical and mental health evaluations, infectious disease screening, and if necessary laboratory and radiology services. All prisoners have access to health care, and it is illegal to deny a prisoner their right to such access.

Your rights as an individual are important to know. As the situation in Utah shows, sometimes those that are meant to protect our rights violate them. Just because a police officer tells you to do something, doesn’t necessarily mean they have the legal authority to do so. It is imperative you know your rights and advocate for yourself in the same way Nurse Wubbels advocated for her patient. If you believe your rights were violated, contact the experienced DC DUI attorneys at Bruckheim and Patel to protect your civil liberties and advocate for your rights.