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

2 DUII suspects have blood drawn in Eugene's 'No Refusal' patrols
A Eugene Police patrol car near the University of Oregon campus - file photo

EUGENE, Ore. - In an effort to curb drunk driving around the Fourth of July, police in Eugene instituted a "No Refusal Weekend" where officers worked with prosecutors and judges to quickly obtain "blood draw warrants" for drivers who refuse blood alcohol content testing.

Officials said the refusal rate was low, with blood being drawn from one of eight suspected drunk drivers during their increased patrols Friday night.

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.

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.

Anyone who refuses to take a breath test faces loss of their license for a year.

Officer Ryan Stone said some drivers would take that route in an attempt to avoid a longer sentence.

"No Refusal" enforcement efforts aim to prevent people from avoiding full accountability, he said.

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.

Dave Fidanque, executive director of the ACLU, said the civil liberties group supports what police plan to do.

"This has long been a practice police have been permitted to do, but have rarely done in the past - quite frankly I think it's a good thing that police will be using more warrants," he said.

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.