During a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) arrest in Washington State most people will be asked to submit to a breath test for alcohol. However, if the investigating officer suspects impairment from drugs – prescription or non-prescription, then the officer may try to obtain a warrant signed by a judge authorizing a blood draw to determine intoxication. This process used to take several hours, but it has been streamlined over the past decade. Today law enforcement can email warrant requests to judges who can electronically review and sign them. Once a signed warrant is emailed back to the officer virtually anyone with the appropriate medical training can draw the blood. The whole process can take less than 30 minutes.
After the blood has been seized by law enforcement it will be tested by the Washington State Toxicology Laboratory. The results of the blood test may then be used as evidence of intoxication in the courtroom. Over the years blood samples from DUI arrests used to be tested about a month after the DUI incident. This past year the average delay in testing has been around two and a half months.
The delay in testing blood samples was addressed in a recent Spokane news article in the Spokesman Review. In the article a lab manager mentions a 45 percent increase in cases over the past five years. This increase in tests is interesting because DUI arrests in Spokane County have dropped by about 33 percent the past decade. The increase in cases referenced by the lab manager is likely a result of Washington State Patrol’s policy of obtaining blood warrants when someone is arrested for DUI and refuses the breath test at the police station. Breath test refusal cases used to be litigated on the officer’s observations and opinions, but today with the use of technology speeding up the blood warrant process, many breath test refusals lead to blood draws.
This delay in testing DUI blood samples is troubling. Prosecutors have no obligation to wait until the blood sample has been tested or until the results have been shared with the defense and can immediately file DUI charges. This means some people accused of a DUI who are still awaiting blood test results are forced to comply with court ordered Conditions of Release, like installing the Ignition Interlock Device, for months before having access to all the evidence against them.