Police in a populous Illinois county will begin requiring motorists suspected of driving while intoxicated to submit to a blood test if they refuse a breathalyzer.
The new policy, which will be implemented Sunday by police departments in McHenry County, will be facilitated by so-called “e-warrants,” which allow an arresting officer to immediately obtain a warrant from a judge after demonstrating probable cause over video conference.
After a warrant is issued, the motorist will be transported to the nearest hospital, where they will be required to submit to a blood test. Individuals who refuse will be forced to submit and could charged be with obstruction of justice as a result.
Authorities argue the practice will be useful in cracking down on repeat offenders, who have learned to avoid stiff DUI penalties by refusing a breathalyzer. Under Illinois law, individuals give “implied consent” to undergo a Breathalyzer test when getting behind the wheel, but the penalty for refusal is the suspension of one’s driver’s license, rather than a more serious DUI charge.
“These repeat offenders are some of the most dangerous people out there,” said Michael Nerheim, the state’s attorney for nearby Lake County, which also plans to adopt the policy, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”
McHenry County state’s attorney Patrick Kenneally said that the policy will help prosecutors build stronger DUI cases and he hopes to see it adopted nationwide.
“The strongest evidence for the prosecution to have when presenting DUI cases is BAC [Blood Alcohol Content],” Kenneally said in a press release. “This will create really strong cases.”
Critics of the policy argue it may violate motorists’ civil liberties, especially in cases where an individual who resists the blood test is made to submit by force. They have also pointed out that the practice may place an undue strain on hospital workers who are asked to perform the test.
“From a constitutional standpoint, they can probably get away with this, but from a practical standpoint they’re going to run into some difficulties,” defense attorney Robert Hanaford told the Tribune. “I applaud the effort to get impaired drivers off the road, but I think it’s going to be burdensome. They’re putting medical professionals in the line of performing law enforcement duties.”
Hospital workers have faced legal consequences for refusing to draw blood at the direction of police in the past. A Utah nurse was handcuffed and arrested last year for refusing to draw blood from an unconscious man because he could not consent. The nurse was later paid a $500,000 settlement for the wrongful arrest and the arresting officer was fired.