A Delaware County, holiday weekend crackdown on impaired drivers netted a dozen arrests, including several which resulted from the forced withdrawal of blood.
A countywide, holiday weekend crackdown on impaired drivers netted a dozen arrests, including several which resulted from the forced withdrawal of blood.
Four allegedly drunk drivers were charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated between May 23 and 26 after being required to provide blood samples as evidence to Delaware County law enforcement officials.
The arrests stemmed from a "no refusal" weekend initiative led by Delaware County prosecutor Dave Yost.
The campaign involved Delaware County Municipal Court judges David Sunderman and David Gormley, who were on call to issue search warrants permitting the extraction of blood from suspected impaired drivers who refused to submit to more traditional blood-alcohol breath tests. In addition to four individuals who were charged after being forced to provide blood, two others submitted to voluntary breath tests after being informed a mandatory blood test could be administered.
"I thought it was outstanding," Yost said. "Because of this project, we got evidence in six cases we wouldn't have had otherwise."
Law enforcement officials from the Delaware County Sheriff's Office, the city of Delaware, Genoa Township, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Powell and Westerville participated in the initiative, which previously had been instituted in cities in Illinois and Texas.
Yost said suspected impaired drivers who refused to submit to breath tests during Memorial Day weekend were taken to the Delaware County Jail, where he and assistant county prosecutors sought to establish probable cause to obtain a search warrant. The judges then were contacted and determined if a warrant to draw blood should be granted.
The Ohio Supreme Court has held the blood collected as evidence in suspected impaired driving arrests can be used in courts. Recently deceased Circleville Municipal Court Judge John Adkins also gained publicity in the past decade for granting warrants for on-the-spot blood draws.
"Ohio law requires blood tests to be withdrawn within three hours of the time of the alleged violation," said Delaware County Sheriff Walter Davis III. "This initiative allowed many agencies to work effectively together to obtain warrants and collect necessary evidence in a timely manner."
Given these trends, Yost said he was "very confident" those who were forced to provide blood samples in Delaware County over the holiday weekend will be prosecuted.
"The settled law for 40 years has been that, constitutionally, you can get a warrant to draw bodily fluids," he said.
Some defense attorneys, however, argue that impaired driving cases which result from the forced extraction of bodily fluids can be fought on myriad levels.
"It sounds great in public policy, it sounds great in the media and it sounds great from law enforcement officials, but at the end of the day, it winds up being less effective than breath tests," said Brad Koffel, a Columbus attorney whose firm specializes in defending individuals arrested on impaired driving charges. "Challenging blood tests is easier than challenging breath tests."
Koffel said blood tests involve multiple individuals -- from arresting officers to laboratory staffers and technicians -- who obtain, transport, store and analyze suspected evidence. Each of those individuals can be called to court and challenged for their handling of a sample, he said.
Koffel added that state regulations on blood testing are more comprehensive than those on breath testing, creating a "litany of land mines that a prosecutor has to navigate through." He also said drawing blood over a patient's objections could be considered assault.
While Koffel said he supports enforcement of impaired driving laws, he questioned the motives behind Yost's initiative. He said most cases result in misdemeanor charges, which are processed in municipal court, as opposed to felonies, which Yost's office would prosecute.
"It looks like a public relations stunt," Koffel said. "If it's designed to raise awareness and deter drinking and driving in Delaware County, then I will be the first to stand up and applaud it. But if they're selling it to the public that this is an effective way to get convictions, then I have to tell you, I have a problem with it."
Despite such assertions, Yost said he believes county officials will successfully defend challenges to the no-refusal practices. He added that he would support similar exercises in the future if law enforcement officials throughout the county deem them as effective ways to combat impaired driving.
"I need to talk to my partners out there in law enforcement and see what they think," he said. "Certainly the results (from Memorial Day weekend) warrant looking at doing this again."