On Thursday morning, a Senate committee gave first approval to a bill that would allow law enforcement officers to seek a search warrant for a blood test in all DUI investigations.
Senate Bill 74 is sponsored by Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Hopkinsville Republican and chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee. The bill was heard in the committee and was presented by Martin Hatfield, president of the Kentucky County Attorneys Association.
Law enforcement officers can currently request a judge issue a search warrant for a blood test when a person is charged with DUI in a case where someone is killed or suffers a serious physical injury. Westerfield’s bill removes language about there needing to be a criminal charge and a death or serious physical injury.
The amended language in Westerfield’s bill reads: “Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to prohibit a judge or court of competent jurisdiction from issuing a search warrant or other court other requiring a blood or urine test, or a combination thereof.”
While law enforcement can seek a court order to compel a blood test in other investigations, they are prohibited from doing so only in DUI cases.
“It’s a peculiar carve-out” for DUI cases, Westerfield said.
People currently have the right to refuse to take a blood test if an officer investigating possible impaired driving requests one. The number of people refusing to take a blood test has risen from 10.2 % in 2001 to 45 % in 2014, Hatfield said, citing data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“A search warrant is a tool we can use to further that (DUI) investigation,” Hatfield told committee members. “Thirty-four states right now allow search warrants in DUI cases.”
Being able to compel a blood test would allow officers to “corroborate an officer’s reasonable suspicion” that a person is driving under the influence, Hatfield said. A blood test might also clear people of charges if it’s found their blood-alcohol level was below 0.08, he said.
“I feel a lot of people, if they tested, they wouldn’t have met that 0.08 threshold,” Hatfield said. “If we get a test where the numbers don’t show what they need to show (to meet the definition of DUI), we take the appropriate action” and dismiss the case, he said.
Under current law, a person who refuses an officer’s request for a blood test has their driver’s license suspended. In those cases, a person can get an ignition interlock that prevents a vehicle from starting until they blow into an alcohol detector, Hatfield said.
“They are right back to driving,” he said.
Senate President Robert Stivers, a Manchester Republican, said “a driver’s license is a privilege, it’s not a right” and legislators could set criteria that required a blood test if an officer had a reasonable suspicion a person was DUI. Of the bill, Stivers asked if a blood test taken in a DUI case could be used against the person for other investigations.
“Will the results of a blood test be limited only to DUI prosecution?” Stivers asked, and could the results be used “to enhance the investigation to where you start seeking search warrants for vehicles and houses?”
Sen. Robin Webb, a Grayson Democrat, said she had concerns that a blood test for DUI could result in a narcotics investigation on individuals, even if the level of a drug detected in the test is not at the level of impairment.
Hatfield said, “I think by the time you get the blood test results back, your probable cause (in other potential investigations) would have become stale.”
Hatfield said having blood test results would help DUI prosecutions in court.
“Juries need that information,” Hatfield said. “Police are out there trying to keep the roads safe … and we have people who refuse testing.”
The bill was approved, with Webb voting “pass” but saying she might be able to support an amended version of it.
Sen. Danny Clark, a Louisville Democrat, voted against the bill.
Clark said if the bill became law and a person refused a test, an officer is going to take a person “somewhere” for a test anyway.
“We might as well shutter this whole fantasy that people are innocent until proven guilty,” Clark said. “You’re talking about the threat of government violence.”
There are several more steps for the bill to go through, including being passed on second reading in the Senate and then going to a House committee and the full House, before becoming law.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, email@example.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse