Here at the Breakdown, we are always on the lookout for the injustices that take place in our world. Whether be in the church, in politics, or in the world of law in order.
Apparently, a police officer, Detective Jeff Payne, wanted Salt Lake City nurse, Alex Wubbels, to draw blood from an unconscious patient without a warrant.
This confrontation occurred July 26 after a car crash that followed a high-speed police chase. According to Deseret News, a vehicle driven by an unnamed suspect was fleeing from police in Cache County when it crossed into on coming traffic and suffered a head-on collision with a truck. The suspect was killed in the crash, and the truck driver was taken to the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. The truck driver was severely burned in the crash, so he was sedated and admitted to the hospital’s burn unit.
In the video, which was captured by the bodycam of another officer who was present, Wubbels can be seen patiently and professionally explaining to Payne that without a warrant, she cannot allow him to draw blood from an unconscious patient. Wubbels additionally enlisted the help of a supervisor and hospital officials, who confirmed that it was both contrary to hospital policy and illegal for Payne to draw blood from this patient without a warrant.
Throughout the series of phone calls, Officer Payne grows increasingly agitated at having his authority questioned and repeatedly threatens to arrest Wubbels. At one point, Wubbels’ supervisor asks Payne to stop threatening a nurse who is trying to do her job, at which point Payne visibly loses his temper, slaps the phone out of Wubbels’ hand, and begins to handcuff and arrest her.
What Does the Law say
In June 2016, the Supreme Court ruled, Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, reasoned that requiring drivers to submit to a blood test without a warrant was unconstitutional. The difference with breathalyzer tests, blood tests are sufficiently invasive that without a warrant, they constitute an “unreasonable search” and thus violate the Fourth Amendment. The court held that this is true even when a driver is lawfully arrested for drunk driving:
Blood tests are significantly more intrusive, and their reasonableness must be judged in light of the availability of the less invasive alternative of a breath test. Respondents have offered no satisfactory justification for demanding the more intrusive alternative without a warrant. …
Because breath tests are significantly less intrusive than blood tests and in most cases amply serve law enforcement interests, we conclude that a breath test, but not a blood test, may be administered as a search incident to a lawful arrest for drunk driving.
Notably, the court rejected an approach favored by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor, writing in dissent, who would have permitted police to engage in a case-by-case analysis. The court’s reasoning was thus clear: Police must obtain either a warrant or consent before drawing a suspect’s blood sample.
In this case, the truck driver was not even a suspect in the case. The police had no probable cause to obtain a warrant for his blood because he was not suspected of doing anything wrong. And because he was unconscious, he was legally incapable of giving consent.
And while a patient is unconscious and in the care of a hospital, the hospital can be held legally liable if they allow patients in their care to have their rights violated — including by police.
Following Payne’s illegal order thus could have subjected both Wubbels and the hospital to a lawsuit.
What’s Happened Since
Wubbels was ultimately released without being criminally charged, but she plans to fight to prevent others from being intimidated or arrested for refusing to follow illegal orders from police.
Wubbels maintains that for now, she does not want to sue, she wants to make a point. According to the Deseret News, when asked if she planned to sue, she said:
I think right now, I believe in the goodness of society. I want to see people do the right thing first and I want to see this be a civil discourse. And if that’s not something that’s going to happen and there is refusal to acknowledge the need for growth and the need for re-education, then we will likely be forced to take that type of step. But people need to know that this is out there.