Law Office of Phil Hineman

Arizona’s Use of Roadside Blood Testing for Drugged Driving

Arizona has put into operation roadside blood testing for drugged driving. Police officers, when authorized by an “e-warrant,” can draw the blood of a motorist suspected of driving under the influence of drugs. Roadside testing comes in response to growing concerns about drugged driving that are fueled in part by the persistent opioid epidemic and the progress of many states toward legalization of marijuana.

Upon suspicion that a driver is under the influence of drugs, a police officer at a traffic stop can ask a judge by e-mail for a warrant, stating the factual basis giving rise to probable cause. This may include the officer’s observations that the driver has slurred speech, glassy eyes or other physical indications of drug effects. The reason for stopping the vehicle, such as erratic driving, can also be stated. A judge can decide probable cause has been established, grant the warrant and transmit it, all within minutes. The driver’s blood can then be drawn on the site in a police van equipped for the procedure.

Supporters of roadside testing argue that drawing the driver’s blood soon after a stop gives a more accurate reading of impairment, since drug effects may dissipate during the time it takes to transport the driver to a police station or a testing facility. However, critics of the new procedure say it runs the risk of interfering with a person’s constitutional rights — specifically, the protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

A warrant is usually required for a search but an exception is made for a search that is incident to an arrest. The taking of a breath sample in connection with a DWI stop has been found to fit this exception. However, the United States Supreme Court drew the line at blood testing in a 2016 case, Birchfield v. North Dakota. It held while a breath test is minimally invasive and simply tells whether or not a person is drunk, a blood test can reveal more information about the driver. As such, it amounts to an invasion of privacy that outweighs the legitimate police interest in obtaining evidence.

Arizona’s e-warrant procedure is intended to overcome that constitutional hurdle. Critics object that e-warrants may become rubber stamps, since a judge may be disinclined to reject the request and thereby put a potentially dangerous driver back on the road. However, the need for e-warrant is a due process guarantee that can be raised in a defense against drug-impaired driving charges. While police have a new weapon in their arsenal, there are still ways to challenge the evidence and the process by which it is obtained.

If you are pulled over for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in Arizona, you have the right to speak with a criminal defense attorney. The Law Office of Phil Hineman, P.C. provides experienced, knowledgeable guidance. Call me today at (928) 224-3230 or contact me online to schedule a free consultation.