2 DUII suspects have blood drawn in Eugene's "No Refusal" patrols

2 DUII suspects have blood drawn in Eugene's "No Refusal" patrols »Play Video
A Eugene Police patrol car in the neighborhoods near the University of Oregon campus - File photo

EUGENE, Ore. - Police took blood samples from two suspected DUII drivers on the 4th of July as part of their No Refusal Weekend, a special patrol allowing officers to apply for "blood draw warrants" should a driver refuse to take a breath test.

Eugene Police worked the no-refusal patrol with the Springfield and Oregon State Police Departments for a 6-hour period of increased police presence during the evening of the Independence Day holiday.

Officers requested warrants for two suspected drunk drivers.

One of the eight DUII citations issued Friday night involved a blood draw warrant.

Eugene Police Spokeswoman Melinda McLaughlin said a ninth DUII driver was arrested early in the morning on July 4. After refusing a breath test, McLaughlin said police "successfully obtained and executed" a warrant for the driver's blood.

"In Lane County, we're encountering an average of perhaps 1,000 people per year who are driving under the influence," said Amy Seely with the Lane County District Attorney's Office, "and large numbers are refusing to provide a breath sample."

With the approval of a judge, anyone suspected of impaired driving who unlawfully refuses to provide a breath sample is subject to blood testing at the scene, a medical facility, or nearest jail facility, police said.

"If someone is contacted, suspected of being under the influence and the officer develops probable cause that they were operating their vehicle while under the influence, the officer will be filling out a search warrant," Seely said. "That search warrant will be submitted to a judge for review."

Two prosecutors, a judge and a phlebotomist were on-call during the holiday to handle such cases.

There were no car crashes reported in the Eugene-Springfield area during the 6-hour stretch, something police say their program helped accomplish on a night that is historically dangerous for drivers. McLaughlin said there were no fatalities, injuries, or incidents of property damage from vehicles during the law enforcement patrol.

Along with the 8 DUII citations, officials said the 6-hour patrol netted arrests for suspended licenses, possession of methamphetamine, reckless endangering, interfering with police, resisting arrest, and misuse of 911 on top of numerous traffic violations.

From Eugene Police Spokeswoman Melinda McLaughlin:

This latest enforcement effort is one of a series of “No Refusal” programs. They are called that because all suspected impaired drivers caught during the weekend who refuse breath testing are subject to blood testing for alcohol. A blood test will happen if a driver has already:

1) been stopped for a traffic infraction or involved in crash

2) shown signs of impairment

3) further demonstrated impairment via Field Sobriety Tests and then

4) been lawfully arrested and provided an opportunity to provide a breath sample after hearing the Implied Consent Rights and Consequences.

Then, and only then, if the driver refuses a breath test, does the search warrant process begin. It requires the officer to articulate probable cause which would be reviewed by a prosecutor and a judge. A blood draw would only be conducted if authorized by a judge who has reviewed the particular circumstances of that particular case. The draw would be conducted by trained medical personnel, not a police officer.

To clarify:

1)     There are not any checkpoints involved. Checkpoints are not legal in Oregon, and their effectiveness in combating impaired driving is limited. There were instead extra officers out looking for signs of impaired driving, and stops were made on a basis of probable cause.

2)     Drivers stopped during the operation were only asked to submit to a breath test if they were arrested for DUII. To be clear, there were no demands for roadside breath tests from any driver, much less from every driver.

3)     Search warrants are evaluated on a case-by-case basis by both the on-site prosecutor and the judge.

4)     The efforts by Eugene Police, Springfield Police and Oregon State Police to inform the public about this event are meant to educate drivers about the dangers of impaired driving, and that law enforcement takes seriously their responsibility to protect the lives and property of travelers on our roadways. Our ultimate goal is to deter all instances of impaired driving first, and to successfully prosecute those who elect to make the dangerous decision to drive under the influence second. Simply put, our goal is to reduce crashes, not increase arrests.

In Eugene, as well as the rest of America, anyone driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter or higher is considered legally impaired (.04 for commercial drivers). However, many impaired drivers refuse to submit to BAC testing in attempt to avoid—or have reduced—the criminal sanctions they could face upon conviction. It is important to note that a person is arrested based upon impairment, so even if someone is below the legal limit, if they are impaired they can be arrested. For example, some prescription medicines, illegal drugs, and or combinations of alcohol and drugs can impair a person’s driving abilities.

BAC test refusals are increasing around the Nation. In a 2008 report to Congress (Refusal of Intoxication Testing: A Report to Congress, NHTSA), refusal rates ranged from 2.4 percent to 81 percent, with an average refusal rate of 22.4 percent. The “No Refusal Program” is designed to address this issue and also to provide scientific evidence of guilt or innocence to prosecutors. Police and other law enforcement officials work in coordination with prosecutors and judges to quickly obtain “blood draw warrants” for drivers who refuse BAC testing. With the approval of a judge, anyone suspected of impaired driving who unlawfully refuses to provide a breath sample is subject to mandatory or court-ordered blood testing. The program helps ensure that prosecutors obtain the scientific evidence needed to effectively pursue cases involving alleged impaired driving.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 10,839 alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities in the United States in 2009.