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March 15, 2004 - States Pushing Blood Tests for Drunk Drivers

Generally, when police stop suspected drunk drivers, they require drivers to blow into a breathalyzer to determine blood-alcohol content. But now, more states are requiring authorities to take blood samples, by force if necessary, the Wall Street Journal reported March 23.

"I've really pushed it," said John O'Boyle, district attorney of Pierce County, Wis. He said that breath tests often don't hold up in court. "Blood tests tend to be pretty bulletproof," he added.

Police are also seeing a trend of more people refusing to submit to a breath test and taking the penalty of a one-year license suspension instead of facing a DUI conviction. Furthermore, unlike breath tests -- where it's impossible for authorities to force a test on an individual -- no cooperation is needed for a hospital to draw blood.

However, using blood tests to fight drunk-driving raises two issues: the amount of force police should be allowed to use to obtain a blood sample, and whether medical professionals are bound to honor a patient's refusal of a blood test and protect their privacy.

"For me to draw blood from a patient who is refusing to have his blood drawn, unless I have compelling medical reasons for that blood sample, I'm committing assault and battery, and I'm not going to do it," said Dr. Phil Brewer, president of the Connecticut College of Emergency Physicians and a fellow at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Currently, Alaska, Arizona, Iowa, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, and Texas have laws that allow police to use reasonable force to obtain blood tests in DUI cases. Seven other states passed laws that permit police to take blood without the driver's consent, but fall short of specifically authorizing force.

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