Refusing to Draw Blood – What is the Law in Utah for DUI Blood Draws?

Salt Lake City criminal lawyer

Since the police bodycam footage of the July 26th incident at a Salt Lake City hospital showing a police officer arresting a nurse has come forward, news outlets and social media posts have been discussing the laws surrounding consent for blood draws and police brutality. Though Utah is one of the states with the lowest incidence of police brutality and police shootings, these events do happen. It is important to know the law – and your rights – whether you are a nurse or you’ve been charged with driving under the influence (DUI).

If you were charged with a crime like DUI and were forced to undergo a blood test, talk to an attorney. Salt Lake City DUI defense lawyer Darwin Overson understands the nuances of Utah’s DUI laws and may be able to help you if you were charged with a crime involving your blood results. If you were accused of DUI or obstruction of justice crimes, talk to an attorney today.

Utah Blood Draw Laws

In Utah, and everywhere else in the United States, police must have probable cause to draw blood from someone without their permission. In the past, “implied consent” laws allowed police to draw blood from someone under the theory that, in exchange for the right to drive their car in the state, they give the state permission to draw blood if they are ever suspected of DUI. That logic, though a bit confusing, stood for a long time as the standard rule in Utah and other states. However, as of the Supreme Court’s decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota on June 23rd, 2016, police across the nation must now get a search warrant for a blood test.

Search warrants are court orders issued to force suspects and others to comply with police investigations. This may mean allowing them to search their house, arrest them, or even draw and test their blood. Any time the police perform a “search,” they are required to have a search warrant – with some exceptions. A search warrant is only issued if the judge believes there is “probable cause” to search or seize the items or people in question. Probable cause means that it is likely that there is evidence of a crime to be found in that location (for a search warrant), or that the person to be arrested likely committed a crime (for an arrest warrant).

Salt Lake City DUI Lawyer

There are some exceptions to when a search warrant is needed. In cases where the evidence is moveable (such as a car), the police are in hot pursuit (such as chasing a suspect into their house), or evidence may be destroyed (such as flushed drugs or shredded documents), police may enter a home or search for and seize evidence without getting a warrant. There are other exceptions and “exigencies” that also allow police to forgo a warrant.

In any case, whether there is a warrant or not, police must have probable cause to perform a search or seizure. While the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution creates the warrant requirement, court decisions have upheld these exceptions. However, the absolute minimum requirement for any search is probable cause.

In Birchfield, the US Supreme Court looked at a few different DUI cases, and decided that blood and breath tests are searches. That means that they are required to follow the rules of any other search:

  1. Police must have probable cause to perform the search, and
  2. Police must get a search warrant unless an exception applies.

The Court did decide that breath tests can be performed as part of an arrest, along with other searches that typically occur at that time. For blood tests, however, the Court decided police need a separate search warrant.

Of course, someone under investigation can always agree to a search. If the subject consents to a search of their person, car, home, or even to a blood draw, police can perform that search. This means that police can always legally draw blood if they get your permission first.

Salt Lake City Blood Draw Laws

Utah Blood Warrant Rules in Nurse’s Arrest

In the July 26th incident, it appears that police were trying to get blood drawn from an unconscious man who was involved in a car accident. Allegedly, police were trying to prove he was not driving under the influence when they requested the blood draw. Since the man was unconscious, he could not consent. Since the man was not under investigation for DUI (and they were actually trying to prove he did not commit a crime), police had no probable cause and would have been unable to get a search warrant.

Nurse Alex Wubbels showed a great deal of courage in refusing the police request to draw blood, and helped ensure that the patient’s rights were upheld. Since this blood draw would have violated the patient’s constitutional rights, Utah law, hospital policy, and patients’ rights, she refused to draw blood for the police officers. Aside from these laws, nurses are held to ethical codes of conduct that require “informed consent” for any procedure. In the case of medical emergencies, doctors and nurses may be able to help injured individuals – but for blood to be handed over to police without patient consent or a search warrant would violate the patient’s rights. This shows that, even if police and courts may not be willing to uphold a patient’s rights, nurses and healthcare providers may be.

Can a Nurse be Charged with Obstruction for Refusing to Draw Blood after a DUI?

The nurse’s arrest clearly overstepped the police officer’s authority. By all legal principals, hospital policy, and police rules, the officer in this case overstepped his authority by arresting this nurse. Since she was not charged with any crime and was released after the arrest, it becomes clear that she didn’t do anything wrong.

In order to be charged with obstruction of justice or a similar crime in Utah, you must prevent the discovery of evidence “by force, intimidation, or deception,” and must have the “intent to hinder, delay, or prevent” investigation, arrest, or punishment. These requirements are clear under Utah Code § 76-8-305.5.

Under situations like Nurse Wubbels’, there should be no fear of being arrested or charged with a crime. The key point is the intent. In a situation where a nurse refuses to draw blood based on the legal standards, the nurse is not trying “to hinder, delay, or prevent” the investigation – they are working to uphold the law, hospital policy, and other rights and rules.

Salt Lake City Criminal Defense Lawyers

Darwin Overson of Overson Law is a criminal defense attorney in Salt Lake City. If you or a loved one was charged with a crime in Salt Lake County, call our law offices today for a free consultation on your case. If you were charged with a crime that involved a blood draw at a hospital, our attorneys may be able to fight the evidence if it was illegally seized. For your free consultation, call (801) 758-2287 today.