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Blood tests for DWI cases costing Hancock County

 Associated Press
July 23, 2014
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In the hands of a jury, a simple blood test can mean the difference between a drunken-driver who is convicted and one who walks free.

With the popularity of crime dramas causing what public safety officials call "the CSI effect," jurors today have come to expect law enforcement to provide irrefutable data in cases that go to trial.

But in drunken-driving cases, the same tests prosecutors say have become necessary to successfully convict are also draining an important county budget.

The prosecutor's diversion fund, which covers the initial cost of blood tests given to suspected drunken drivers, received a $23,000 appropriation for 2014. That amount is nearly exhausted, Hancock County Prosecutor Michael Griffin told the Daily Reporter.

That's due in part to rising costs for blood draws, but also because of an unexpected increase in the number of suspects who refuse the alternative, a breath test, after being stopped. A breath test is one of the most basic steps for measuring a person's sobriety, and it doesn't cost the county a dime; but when a person refuses to cooperate, the county must foot the bill to test their blood.

The county council is expected to approve an additional $26,000 appropriation in the coming weeks to cover testing through the end of 2014.

Typically, about 175 drunken-driving suspects refuse breath tests each year and are given blood tests as a result. This year, that number is expected to exceed 190 refusals, according to current estimates.

That's a frustrating reality for law enforcement officials.

"It's an unnecessary expense," Griffin said. "We shouldn't have to pay for that. Breath tests are free."

When an officer stops a driver he believes is impaired, the person behind the wheel is usually asked to take a breath test, as well as submit to a variety of physical tests aimed at evaluating sobriety. A portable breath-test kit - the kind carried by officers in their squad cars - provides an estimated result that is not admissible in court but gives police a good idea if the motorist is over the legal threshold of 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content.

The investigating officer can also administer a more-advanced breath test, one given at the police station using a specialized piece of equipment. That result can be given to a jury if the case goes to trial. If a person refuses that test, the officer is faced with having to obtain a search warrant for their blood.

It's a step that wasn't always necessary.

In the past, juries frequently relied on officer testimony that a driver was weaving in and out of traffic, had slurred speech or other characteristics consistent with impairment. Today's juries, conditioned by the flood of unrealistic crime dramas, are more demanding, and experts say assuring a conviction is all about the numbers.

Juries today expect data to support an officer's allegations, which places law enforcement in the position of having to secure a blood screen for those who refuse a breath test.

"Those test results are golden," Griffin said.

But they come at a cost. In 2011, the county spent $12,600 on the tests. This year, Griffin expects the total will exceed $44,000.

When Griffin took office in 2011, an alcohol screen through Hancock Regional Hospital cost $32. The price today has nearly tripled to $93. In 2011, a dual blood test for drugs and alcohol cost $87. That test costs $280 today.

Hancock Regional spokesman Rob Matt said the increase is based on several factors, some beyond the hospital's control.

In 2012, the hospital discovered it had overlooked what it was charging the county for the tests; they were being offered far below cost.

The following year, Medicare raised its rates for the tests, and hospitals were required to follow suit, Matt said.

"Nobody can charge less than Medicare," Matt said. "Medicare is the threshold."

The hospital hiked its rates yet again in 2013 in response to an increased strain on personnel who were being subpoenaed by courts to testify.

The county is no longer paying solely for the tests to be performed, but also for hospital staff members to then go to court to testify about the validity of the results at trial, Matt said.

"We are now sending medical folks and at times three different staff members to a court hearing to substantiate a test," Matt said. "We're passing along part of that cost because we're paying these folks to be downtown."

And when it comes to keeping streets safe, prosecutors say the county has no choice but to ante up for the test that makes a conviction more likely.

"I think it's come to a point that if we have the scientific technology, why aren't we using it, and so in their minds, many jurors require some objective test result to guide their judgment," Griffin said.

When a driver believed to be impaired refuses a breath test, an officer must prove to a judge there is probable cause to order the driver to take a blood test.

The process can take time, especially if the traffic stop occurs in the middle of the night when officers must awaken the judge and prosecutor on call.

It's a delay some impaired drivers are counting on, perhaps in hopes they will metabolize enough alcohol in their bloodstream to be legally sober by the time the blood draw is taken.

In 2007, former Prosecutor Dean Dobbins spearheaded an effort to quicken the process of getting search warrants for blood samples.

He used diversion fund money to put fax machines in the homes of the county's three judges, allowing officers to quickly send requests for search warrants.

Still, the process expends manpower unnecessarily after a traffic stop that could be over with a simple breath test, Police Chief John Jester said.

"It adds time to it because we have to get a search warrant and then go up and spend time at the hospital with them," he said.

Prosecutors say they're sensitive to law enforcement's frustration, and they pay attention to the details of every report when determining whether to offer a defendant a plea agreement.

In terms of sentencing, the penalties can be more severe for those who refused a breath test and cost the county time and money, Griffin said.

The prosecutor's office is less likely to negotiate with a person who failed to cooperate and cost the county money for an unnecessary test, Griffin said.

"We are less forgiving on the terms that we offer," he said. "And we don't feel bad about that. If you are so aware of what's going on that you decide you're going to do your best to avoid enforcement, then we think that intent should be punished more heavily."

    

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  • Solution #1
    Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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