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Concerns rage over Eugene Police’s Independence Day DUI crackdown



The Eugene Police Department chose a controversial time to roll out its “No Refusal Weekend.”

This Independence Day weekend, cops will quickly obtain warrants to take blood from anyone suspected of driving under the influence who refuses a breathalyzer. Around the country, people are posting images and articles on social media to voice outrage that EPD’s blood checkpoints will strap people to gurneys and violate the 4th amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. EPD has even received threats of violence.

There’s just one problem with the uproar: most of it isn’t based in fact.

“There’s not any checkpoints, nobody’s going to be funneled into a line where they’re going to have to speak to a police officer or take a breath test or blood test on the side of the road,” Eugene Police officer Ryan Stone said. “I think that if folks had that in their mind, that we’re not doing some crazy plot where cops are running around poking everybody they find with a needle, I think they would see things differently.”

Blood draws are already legal with a warrant, if the suspect refuses the breath test. The only difference this weekend is that officers will have prosecutors, judges and medical staff standing by to expedite the process.

Also, DUI checkpoints aren’t legal in Oregon. EPD will have extra cops out, like any other holiday. If someone is pulled over for a traffic violation and seems impaired, smells like alcohol or admits to having a drink, the officer will administer a field sobriety test. If the driver fails, they will be arrested and taken to the station.

Then, and only then, will the potential for a blood test arise. If the suspect refuses the breath test, the officer will get a warrant from the judge on call, and a trained phlebotomist will take a blood sample.

“I can understand why people are sensitive at the idea of having to give blood,” Stone said. “But it’s a distraction away from what the real message is, which is to not drink and drive.”

David Fidanque, the executive director of the Oregon ACLU, says that constitutionally, there is no problem with cops doing blood tests, as long as they get a warrant based on probable cause.

Normally, if a driver refuses the breath test, their license is suspended for a year, but they don’t get the other penalties of a DUI, like fines, jail time or an assessment for alcohol abuse. Drunk drivers are increasingly refusing the breath test to avoid these consequences, so many cities have started using blood tests.

“The great thing about a breath or a blood test result is that it’s just a number and it can’t be argued with,” Stone said Max Mizejewski, a Eugene lawyer who specializes in DUI cases, understands the anger over the “No Refusal Weekend.”

“People might feel like they have a privacy right in their own blood,” Mizejewski said, “and they don’t feel like the police should be able to take their blood without their consent.”

Cops must have probable cause to pull someone over for DUI, but Mizejewski says that the infractions are often minor, like not signaling a turn. If someone has even two drinks, they must wait for hours before their blood alcohol content is under the legal limit for drivers of .08 percent.

“Have a plan,” Mizejewski said. “And have a backup plan.”

Common suggestions are appointing a designated driver or calling a taxi.

“If this announcement from the police stops some folks from getting behind the wheel when they’re drunk, that’s a good thing,” Fidanque said.

Author: Rebecca Brewster 

 


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