Blood tests in DUI cases

Blood tests for DUIs in Georgia are becoming more and more common, and while blood sample evidence is considered to be more reliable than that of breath tests, there are many issues that may arise from the time a blood sample is taken to the time it is tested.

Challenging a DUI blood test in Georgia

Blood tests are most often used in two circumstances: when the officer believes a driver has drugs in his system (prescription or illicit), and when the driver refuses to voluntarily submit to the breath test.  In Georgia, drivers have a qualified right to refuse chemical testing once they’ve been arrested for a DUI, but if you refuse, the officer may ask a judge to issue a search warrant to test your blood. This method is gaining popularity throughout Georgia and in some cases law enforcement will conduct roadblocks with a judge on-scene to sign search warrants on the spot. Whether the driver consents to giving a blood sample or is forced to give one by way of a search warrant, the officer will take the driver to a qualified blood drawer. Frequently this means going to a hospital to have a nurse draw the blood. Sometimes the jail will have an officer certified to draw blood, or occasionally, depending on the location, the officer will take the driver to a fire station for the blood draw.

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No matter who draws the blood, the officer is supposed to provide the blood collection kit. These kits do expire, so it is important for the officer to confirm that the kit has not expired. Further, it is essential that the only items used in the blood alcohol test are those found in the kit. In hospitals, nurses routinely disregard this requirement, primarily because they are accustomed to using the hospital’s equipment. Nurses tend to prefer the hospital’s needles and sterilizing wipes for these types of blood draws. This is problematic because the only type of sterilizing wipe that is approved for blood draws in Georgia is one that is alcohol-free; wiping the skin with alcohol immediately prior to drawing the blood creates the very real possibility that the needle will draw out an infinitesimal amount of raw alcohol along with the blood. This kind of contamination can result in exceptionally high blood test results that can lead to wrongful DUI convictions for those who do not mount a successful defense strategy.

A specific type of tube — the gray-stop tube — must be used for this type of forensic blood draw. This tube contains two necessary compounds, a preservative and an anti-coagulant, designed to stop the blood from breaking down into glucose. It’s a bit scientific, but basically there’s a type of yeast found naturally on human skin called candida albicans, and it creates ethanol (alcohol) as a waste product.  In the absence of a preservative, the blood will break down into glucose, thus feeding the yeast and inflating blood test results. This is also why the expiration date of the of the blood collection kit is so important; although the powders (preservative and anticoagulant) will not expire, the vacuum seal will, and it can introduce a real possibility that candida may have contaminated the sample.

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Attorney Erin H. Gerstenzang

Criminal defense for DUI blood test in Georgia

From collection to analysis to reporting, blood testing requires the adherence of very specific instructions to maintain the integrity of the sample. It is very difficult to prove the details of the process, like whether the nurse used hospital equipment during the blood draw, without properly subpoenaing the relevant witnesses, along with a thorough cross-examination of the nurse, the arresting officer and the GBI toxicologist.

If you’ve been charged with a DUI in Atlanta, Attorney Erin Gerstenzang is here to speak with you and begin exploring all avenues available for challenging problematic blood results in your case.

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