03/24/06 — County votes to continue blood alcohol testing

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County votes to continue blood alcohol testing

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on March 24, 2006 1:45 PM

Wayne County law enforcement officers will continue to be able to demand an alternate test should a suspected drunken driver refuse to use a Breathalyzer.

The Wayne County Commission voted this week to continue the county blood specimen program for another month. The program gives officers the option of asking for an alternate sample from a drunken driving suspect if he or she refuses a traditional test.

Without that test, Wayne County District Attorney Branny Vickory said the county would not have enough evidence against a suspected drunk driver who refused a breath test.

"When you don't have the results, you don't have much of a case," Vickory said.

The penalty for refusal is an automatic one-year driver's license suspension. Vickory said since many of those stopped would face a penalty because they would blow a score above the legal limit, they refuse the test and continue to drink and drive without a license.

But under the new program, if a person refuses a breath test, the police are able to get a search warrant for a blood specimen. Although an officer can testify in court that the person was intoxicated, the specimen provides enough evidence for a conviction, Vickory said.

Instead of taking the suspect to a hospital for the blood test, trained individuals are kept on call to perform the test on site. If a person refuses the breath test, the arresting officer fills out a search warrant, which is then processed. After that, the blood specimen can be taken.

Once one of the counties with the highest number of Breathalyzer refusals, Wayne County has cut the number of refusals significantly since the program began in 2004, Vickory said. Goldsboro Police Department was the first department to implement the program in the area, followed by the Highway Patrol, Mount Olive Police Department and the Wayne County Sheriff's Office.

The county currently has about 30 convictions made possible through the blood alcohol specimen program and many cases still pending.

"That's 30 convictions of people that would have gotten away with it before," Vickory said.

The program's costs center around the on-call testers. Coverage for every day of the week costs an estimated $16,000 per year, while covering just Thursday, Friday and Saturday would cost about $7,000 a year.

During the next month, Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said he and County Attorney Borden Parker would look at possible options to require convicted drunken drivers to reimburse the county for the blood specimen fee through court fees or fines.

Parker said the money to pay for the program initially came from a grant, but that the program will need more money to continue. Smith said he would discuss the issue with county officials and try to find more funding from other programs to offset the cost.