Beginning next month, anyone suspected of driving under the influence (DUI) in Las Vegas can have their blood drawn on the spot. That’s when phlebotomists will patrol with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department seven nights a week to collect blood samples at traffic stops and accidents.
Currently, the blood-taking medical specialists work 10-hour shifts for Metro on weekends and holidays only.
The new program is funded by a $545K grant from the Nevada Office of Traffic Safety (NOTS), which cites impaired driving as the leading cause of fatal crashes in Nevada. (In the past five years, according to NOTS, nearly 43% of all crashes involved DUI.) The program enables phlebotomists to ride with police sergeants and deploy to DUI stops or accidents as needed. It also paid for a specially equipped police blood-draw van.
Police prefer blood tests to breathalyzers — either of which may be administered after a DUI suspect fails various field sobriety tests — because only blood tests measure the presence of both alcohol and drugs, including cannabis.
DUI suspects can refuse a field blood test and opt to take one at jail, where police will transport them upon refusal. If they continue to decline any blood draw, officers can get a warrant from an on-call judge to force one.
Two Hours and Counting…
Nevada law gives police two hours from their initial contact with a DUI suspect to collect a blood or breath sample. Otherwise, they can’t use the test as evidence in a DUI case. If police can’t beat the clock, an expert witness is required to help prove the suspect was intoxicated when they were behind the wheel.
“All of that is just too resource intensive for misdemeanor arrest and prosecution,” Las Vegas defense attorney Thomas Moskal told the Las Vegas Review-Journal earlier this month.
Phlebotomists began riding with officers as volunteers in 2018. The position became paid two years later, as part of an initial $250,000 NOTS grant.
Cannabis Can of Worms Closed
Until last year, anyone driving in Nevada whose blood contained 2 or more nanograms per milliliter of THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis — or 5 or more nanograms per milliliter of cannabis metabolite — was considered legally impaired in court. Suspects were not allowed to argue that they were not impaired because of a built-up tolerance, or that they hadn’t consumed cannabis in days or even weeks, and showed no outward signs of impairment.
Last year, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signed Assembly Bill 400 into law to address this issue. It requires prosecutors to prove cannabis impairment through additional means other than a blood test — such as driving behavior and field sobriety tests.
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