‘No Refusal’: Suspected drunk drivers may be subject to blood tests in Norman

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NORMAN, Okla. -- Suspected drunk drivers who refuse a sobriety test may be subject to a blood test, as part of a new Norman Police Department campaign that partners with the Cleveland County District Attorney.

Beginning this weekend, officers will have checkpoints set up over the next few weekends in a highly publicized effort to keep people who are under the influence of alcohol off the roads.

Norman PD will also have saturation patrols in various parts of the city.

"We think these are really crucial times to ensure that we are getting those impaired drivers off the street," said Sarah Jensen, public safety information officer with the Norman Police Department. "Especially next week when we have kids in dark costumes, trick-or-treating on the streets of Norman and people that are also throwing Halloween parties, we want to put the message out there that it's important that people call an Uber, a taxi, someone who is not impaired to get them home safely."

When drivers arrive at a checkpoint, officers will stop them and ask them about their night.

Those suspected of being under the influence will be asked to take a Breathalyzer test. If a driver refuses, an officer may phone a judge -- specifically on call -- and try to obtain a search warrant to draw blood.

"[The officer will] present the judge with evidence he sees, whether that's slurred speech, driving erratically, whatever it may be," Jensen said. "Then it will be up to the judge on whether or not to sign off on that search warrant for that person to have a blood draw."

The suspected drunk driver would have his or her blood drawn in an ambulance or at a local hospital.

The blood test could then be used in the offender's criminal prosecution, Jensen said.

Norman police only expect about one of every ten drivers to refuse the Breathalyzer test, Jensen said.

But DUI defense lawyers like Stephen Fabian don't like the idea of a checkpoint that he says punishes a person for exercising a Constitutional right.

"There are times, I believe when refusing to submit to the chemical test is appropriate," Fabian said. "I think we ought to have a right to refuse it."

He says there's already a consequence of a not taking Breathalyzer test -- taking away a driver's license. He points to a state law that says if someone refuses a sobriety test, "none shall be given."

"Once you have a person stopped and you ask them to take a test and they say no, I think it's gotta stop at that point," he said. "I don't think they can go out and use a warrant justification because the statute says 'none shall be given.'"

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that drawing blood is only legal with a search warrant.

Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn maintains obtaining a warrant is legal. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol has already used the "No Refusal" checkpoints in other areas of the state, he said, and other states have also taken part in the initiative pushed forward by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

An amendment to the state law to more specifically allow for a warrant is set to take effect Nov. 1.

Norman Police say in city limits in 2013 there were approximately 108 collisions involving a driver or motorcycle operator with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher.

 

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