Lawmakers Sideline Bill Authorizing More Blood Tests For Misdemeanor DUIs

Mar 16, 2017
Originally published on March 15, 2017 5:37 pm

Florida lawmakers want to give officers more authority to use blood tests in misdemeanor DUI investigations. But some are sounding the alarm on the plan’s unintended consequences.

If you drive in the state of Florida, you’re automatically consenting to some testing, if you are suspected of driving under the influence. It could range from a field sobriety test to a breathalyzer or urine screening at the jail. Republican Representative Sam Killebrew of Winter Haven wants more blood testing in the mix.

This bill allows law enforcement officers to obtain search warrants to draw blood for blood alcohol testing in misdemeanor DUI situations. And that is the bill,” Killebrew said.

Currently, officers can’t forcibly get blood test results for a misdemeanor DUI, except under certain circumstances. The U.S. Supreme Court says it’s just too invasive. Killebrew thinks demanding more blood tests will keep offenders off the road. But Criminal defense lawyer Aaron Wayt says it’s not clear that’s the case.

“Because at the point that they’re already requesting for a search warrant for the blood, the officer already believes he has probable cause and can make the arrest. So this isn’t going to increase the arrest, it’s going to increase the number of blood tests going to FDLE,” he said.

The bill got its first committee hearing Wednesday. It’s often a cursory review process. But this time, the bill sponsor appeared unprepared and ill-informed. Lawmakers had a lot of questions, and got few answers. Here’s Miami Beach Democratic Representative David Richardson.

“I assume some sort of medical practitioner is going to drawing blood. Is there anything in the bill that would address a medical practitioner that would refuse to deliver the service of drawing the bodily fluid?” Richardson asked.

“Uh, thank you. At this time there is nothing in there, no sir,” Killebrew answered.

And if there’s no clinic nearby?

“That’s a good point. We have not thought about that process,” Killebrew said.

Committee Chairman Ross Spano pointed out, there are other blood testing procedures in place for other criminal offenses. But would investigators be able to use the evidence for separate cases? Spano says the current bill doesn’t address that.

“What I’m being told by staff is it’s not specifically addressed in the bill. But I’m certain it is however Representative Killebrew’s intent that it be confined to this one particular instance. So if there’s something we need to do moving forward to clarify that, we can do that,” Spano said.

Representative James Grant, a Tampa Republican, saw the unanswered questions piling up, and offered an olive branch.

“Assuming this bill would move forward through the process, would you be amenable to working with some of us to try and maybe rein in, I think, some of maybe, perhaps the unintended consequences of what this bill might potentially do?” Grant asked.

“Yes, absolutely,” Killebrew answered.

But before the bill could come to a vote, Chair Spano called an audible. He put the committee on hold, and asked Killebrew to step outside with him.

“We’re going to take a brief recess. No one go anywhere. Alright? Hang tight,” Spano said.

When the representatives returned, Killebrew asked to temporarily postpone the measure. That often signifies lawmakers know they don’t have the support they need. The move means Killebrew will get another chance to address his colleagues’ concerns, before they decide whether to table the bill entirely.

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