The law allows law enforcement to seek search warrants for a blood sample if a person arrested for driving under the influence refuses to consent to one
A new Tennessee law meant to keep impaired drivers off the roads was put to the test this past week.
Called "No Refusal," the law allows law enforcement to seek search warrants for a blood sample if a person arrested for driving under the influence refuses to consent to one. Governor Bill Haslam signed the bill into law in May, and local agencies enforced it for the first time during the Fourth of July holiday.
"In Tennessee, more and more of our drivers are impaired, not because of alcohol but because of drugs," said Anderson County District Attorney Dave Clark. "And a breathalyzer test does not reveal the presence of drugs. Blood tests do."
The new law has also created confusion among the driving population, many who don't understand the changes to previous law.
Whether it happens during a traffic stop, check point, or following a crash, law enforcement will still follow standard procedure when arresting drivers suspected of DUI. Tennessee Highway Patrol Lieutenant Don Boshears explains, troopers communicate with drivers and check the vehicle. If someone is believed to be under the influence, troopers will conduct a field sobriety test, too.
"All that's the same, it's always been that way," said Lt. Boshears. "And its still going to be that way under the "'No Refusal' law."
When a driver fails that test and is arrested for DUI, then law enforcement can request a blood test.
"They're going to ask you for your consent. You do have the right to refuse consent," said Boshears.
If a driver does not give consent, under the new law an officer can seek a search warrant. Law enforcement must provide probable cause in order to get the approval from a judge or magistrate.
"First I read it, to ensure everything is in there that is required to be in there," explained Anderson County Judge Don Elledge.
"Then I'll swear the officer in, then he will acknowledge that all the information contained in there is true. I watch him sign the affidavit, sign it, date it. Then I'll sign it and so forth. Then I'll issue the search warrant to him."
In Anderson County, like many counties during the holiday weekend, Judge Elledge was on call 24/7 to answer to possible warrants.
A blood test is only possible after a search warrant is approved. A qualified medical professional administers the test.
"When they have somebody they need to get the blood from, and they need to get a resource to come and draw that blood, we are partnering with them to be an aid and do that when our system allows," said Anderson County EMS Director Nathan Sweet.
While some counties may transport the accused driver to the hospital, Anderson County EMS handles its county's requests.
Police provide EMS with prepackaged kits, which include the necessary equipment and paperwork to complete a blood test. Once finished, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations screens the blood for alcohol and drugs.
The new law will help detect and secure evidence against impaired drivers, which will assist prosecutors in court. D.A. Clark says he also hopes it will prevent others from risking their lives and the lives of others on Tennessee roadways.
"People who are considering driving impaired will realize this isn't a good idea," said Clark. "That refusing a test is not going to help them continue driving impaired and they'll choose not to."
The Fourth of July holiday was local law enforcement's first test of the "No Refusal" law, which went into effect July 1st. Officials plan to continue testing the law on different weekend enforcement periods to iron out details before enforcing it full-time later this year.