Utah nurse’s arrest raises questions on evidence collection

The videotaped arrest of a Utah nurse who refused to allow blood to be drawn from an unconscious patient has raised questions about how far officers can go to collect evidence and has led to policy changes within the Salt Lake City Police Department.

Here are some of the legal issues involved:

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WHAT HAPPENED?

Police body-camera video released Thursday shows Salt Lake City Detective Jeff Payne handcuffing nurse Alex Wubbels on July 26 after she refused to allow blood to be drawn from an unconscious patient after a car crash.

In the video, Wubbels, who works in the burn unit at Utah University Hospital, explains she’s protecting the patient’s rights and she can’t take the man’s blood unless he is under arrest, police have a warrant or the patient consents.

None of that applied, and the patient was not a suspect. Payne’s written report says he wanted the sample to show the victim did nothing wrong.

The dispute ended with Payne telling Wubbels: “We’re done, you’re under arrest.” He pulled Wubbels outside while she screams: “I’ve done nothing wrong!”

Wubbels is being praised for her actions to protect the patient, while Payne and another officer are on paid leave. Criminal and internal affairs investigations are underway.

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LEGAL ISSUES AT PLAY?

A 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling says a blood sample can’t be taken without patient consent or a warrant. But in this case, the officer reportedly believed he had “implied consent” to take the patient’s blood.

Implied consent assumes that a person with a driver’s license has given approval for blood draws, alcohol breath screenings or other tests if there’s reason to believe the driver is under the influence.

Paul Cassell, a criminal law professor at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, wrote in an opinion piece for The Salt Lake Tribune that state law doesn’t permit a blood draw in this situation — especially since the blood was being sought to prove the patient was not under the influence.

Wubbels’ attorney, Karra Porter, said the state’s implied-consent law “has no relevance in this case whatsoever under anyone’s interpretation. … The officer here admitted on the video and to another officer on the scene that he knew there was no probable cause for a warrant.”

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MEDICAL PERSONNEL VS. POLICE

Charles Idelson, a spokesman for National Nurses United, said a nurse’s prime responsibility is to be a patient advocate and protect patients, especially when they can’t consent themselves.

Meanwhile, police are…

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