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Nurse Arrested for Protecting Unconscious Patient from Illegal Blood Draw

Salt Lake City PD Photo

United States Supreme Court decisions sometimes have a greater impact on daily life than citizens may realize. On June 23, 2016, the decision Birchfield v. North Dakota[1] changed the procedure on how law enforcement is supposed to request a blood draw from those suspected of committing a crime such as driving under the influence.

The key phrase here is that it changed how law enforcement is “supposed to” handle drawing blood. As a recent news story from the Washington Post illustrates, the implementation of the correct procedures for drawing blood may be resisted more by some than others.

In Utah, the head nurse at the University of Utah Hospital’s burn unit was arrested for preventing a Salt Lake City police detective from forcibly obtaining an illegal blood sample from an unconscious patient. Under the Birchfield decision, an officer may only obtain a blood sample if the officer has either the subject’s consent to the blood draw or if the officer has obtained a search warrant authorizing the taking of a person’s blood. In this case, the officer had not obtained a search warrant, and the unconscious subject was not capable of giving consent to the blood draw.

The nurse explained to the officer that under the circumstances, she could not permit the officer to force a blood draw from the unconscious patient. Incidentally, the patient was not suspected of committing any crime; he had been injured as a victim in a car crash involving another person suspected of driving under the influence. The suspect did not survive the crash.

In spite of the nurse’s calm and respectful explanation that she could not permit the blood draw—a decision that was reiterated over the telephone by her supervisor—the officer became belligerent when denied the option of obtaining a blood sample. He shoved and grabbed the nurse, handcuffed her, and forced her into an unmarked vehicle, accusing her of interfering with an investigation.

The entire altercation was recorded on the officer’s body camera, and there is no question that the nurse was absolutely legally correct when she did not allow the officer to forcibly obtain the blood sample. Since the incident, the Police Chief and the Salt Lake City Mayor extended a personal apology to the nurse, and the officer involved has been placed on administrative leave pending a criminal investigation into the officer’s conduct.

Thankfully, the nurse was a former Olympian athlete who had enough acumen and resolution not to let a rogue officer force her to violate the unconscious patient’s constitutional rights. We all need to stand up for our constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures. If not, they will soon disappear.

[1] Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S.Ct. 2160 (2016)

About the Author: Steven Oberman has been licensed in Tennessee since 1980, and successfully defended over 2,500 DUI defendants.  Among the many honors bestowed upon him, Steve served as Dean of the National College for DUI Defense, Inc. (NCDD) and currently serves as chair of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers DUI Committee.  Steve was the first lawyer in Tennessee to be Board Certified as a DUI Defense Specialist by the NCDD.

He is the author of DUI: The Crime & Consequences in Tennessee, updated annually since 1991 (Thomson-West), and co-author with Lawrence Taylor of the national treatise, Drunk Driving Defense, 7th edition (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen).  Steve has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee Law School since 1993 and has received a number of prestigious awards for his faculty contributions.  He is a popular international speaker, having spoken at legal seminars in 30 states, the District of Columbia and three foreign countries.

The author would like to thank his associate attorney, Anna Rickels, for her contributions to this article.

If you would like to contact the author, please visit:

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Steve Oberman

Steve Oberman

Since graduating from the University of Tennessee Law School in 1980, Mr. Oberman has become established as a national authority on the intricacies of DUI defense law. Steve is a former Dean of the National College for DUI Defense, co-author of a national treatise ("Drunk Driving Defense" published by Aspen/Wolters-Kluwer), and author of "DUI: The Crime and Consequences in Tennessee" (published by Thomson-Reuters/West). He has taught thousands of lawyers, judges, and members of the general public about the intricacies of this crime. Steve was selected as a Fulbright Scholar to teach American Criminal Law and American Trial Advocacy at the University of Latvia School of Law in 2019; in 2023 taught for a semester as a visiting professor at Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) Faculty of Law in Budapest, Hungary; and as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Ljubljana Faculty of Law in 2024. Steve has also presented at a number of judicial conferences in the United States and Canada as well as for law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Czech Republic Police Academy. As a Tennessee DUI attorney, Mr. Oberman has successfully defended over two thousand clients charged with Driving Under the Influence of alcohol and/or drugs. In 2006, Mr. Oberman became the first DUI lawyer in Tennessee to be recognized by the National College for DUI Defense as a Board Certified Specialist in the area of DUI Defense law.

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