SALT LAKE CITY — A state lawmaker is seeking to clarify Utah law as it pertains to circumstances in which a police officer may or may not obtain a blood draw.
Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, said he would like his bill to "kind of codify Birchfield," referring to Birchfield v. North Dakota, a 2016 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court explored multiple issues surrounding blood draws, ruling against their legality without a warrant in circumstances that are not demonstrably "exigent."
Hall said the impetus for the bill was the arrest of University Hospital nurse Alex Wubbels on July 26 after she declined to allow for a blood draw from a critically injured crash victim for Salt Lake City police.
Wubbels had cited an agreement between the hospital and police department requiring that police have a warrant for a blood draw, since the unconscious victim had not consented to one and was not under arrest. The dramatic video showing Wubbels being arrested garnered widespread outrage on social media and made headlines internationally.
Hall told the Judiciary Interim Committee Wednesday that he wants Utah code to be more clear about laws regarding when obtaining a blood draw is lawful.
"We have some existing statutes, some existing policies throughout the state that are not consistent. We have some good counsel from the U.S. Supreme Court that we can adopt from case law and put it into our statute, so that those who are tasked with drawing blood have a better idea of when it's appropriate to take blood and when it's not appropriate to take blood," he said.
"This is an important issue, it's certainly gotten a lot of attention and I think that it will help medical facilities, help law enforcement, if we can all get on the same page as to when it's appropriate to take blood (and) when it's not appropriate to take blood," Hall said. "I think it will serve everybody well."
Salt Lake police detective Jeff Payne, who arrested the nurse, as well as his supervisor, Lt. James Tracy, are both currently on leave amid ongoing investigations into the incident by the FBI and Unified Police Department. Investigations by the Salt Lake City Police Department's Internal Affairs unit and the city's independent Civilian Review Board concluded that both men violated department policies and that Wubbels should not have been arrested.
Hall's bill has not yet been written. The Judiciary Interim Committee voted unanimously to instruct legislative staff to prioritize drafting the language of Hall's bill so that a copy can be ready for the committee's review when it meets in November.
Committee member Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, voiced his support for placing a high priority on completing the legislation's early stages.
"I think it's important for us to show the public that when there is a high-profile incident like this that really outraged a lot of people — including myself — that we're addressing that," Weiler said.