Saturday, March 25, 2023

OPD Seeks Legislation to Gain Warrants for Blood Draws Electronically

By Alyssa Schnugg

News editor

When an Oxford police officer needs to have a judge sign off on a warrant to allow them to draw blood from a driver suspected to be under the influence, they had to print out a hard copy and bring it to the courthouse, or judge’s private home, to get it signed.

On Tuesday, the Oxford Board of Aldermen approved a resolution in support of local and private legislation authorizing OPD to perform electronic search warrants for the purpose of drawing blood from impaired drivers.

If approved, rather than having to print out a copy of the warrant request, officers can email the judge to gain an electronic signature, significantly cutting down the time it takes to get a warrant signed.

According to Chief Jeff McCutchen, Oxford will be the first city to participate in this pilot program if the local and private legislation is approved.

In 2021, OPD applied for 45 search warrants for the purpose of blood draws on impaired drivers. Blood draws are generally done when a driver refuses the breathalyzer or the officer suspects the driver is under the influence of narcotics.

According to OPD, the department has seen an “uptick” in drug-related DUI cases and felony DUI arrests where the court systems prefer to have a quantitative result reading.

“The longer it takes from the time of the traffic encounter to actually drawing a suspect’s blood could be the difference in getting a conviction or dismissal,” the resolution states.

McCutchen said OPD currently has one trained officer to perform blood draws but will be sending about 14 other officers to become certified phlebotomists.

The ability to receive the warrant signed electronically will not change the criminal process, McCutchen said. Officers will still need to show probable cause for the need to draw blood.