Board approves resolution in support electronic warrant program for blood draws

Published 12:03 pm Wednesday, March 9, 2022

The city of Oxford will be one of the first Mississippi communities to begin a pilot program allowing the Oxford Police Department to do electronic warrants for blood draws on impaired drivers. According to OPD Chief Jeff McCutchen, it will make the warrant process more quick and efficient.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Oxford Board of Alderman approved a resolution in support of local and private legislation authorizing the OPD to perform electronic search warrants for blood draws on impaired drivers and other related purposes.

The resolution states the OPD has seen an increase in drug-related DUI cases and felony DUI arrests where the court system prefers to have a quantitative, or numerical, result reading. However, time is limited when trying to get accurate results. When the suspected impaired driver is arrested, the wait time could decide if the suspect is convicted or dismissed.

In 2021, the OPD applied for approximately 45 search warrants for the purpose of blood draws on impaired drivers.

“We presented to our legislature that we would like to apply for a pilot program to be able to do digital warrants,” said McCutchen. “This is a part of our program that we’ve been granted in phlebotomy and we’ll be the pilot program in Mississippi in our phlebotomy program. It will enhance what we’re doing as far as being able to apply for our warrants and we’ll get those warrants back efficiently.”

This resolution has no effect on the criminal defense process, said the police chief. In order for a court to issue a warrant, the OPD must show probable cause. Then, an officer will have to sign an affidavit and submit it to a judge, who will then decide whether to issue the warrant.

“We will be able to email [the affidavit] to our judge and he will contact us either through face-to-face contact or we could do it through a phone conversation, but he still has all the abilities that he currently has,” said McCutchen. “Nothing will change.”

But now with the electronic warrant, the judge now has the option to sign the warrant in person or digitally.

OPD has applied for and received a new grant allowing them to train and certify officers as phlebotomists for the purpose of drawing blood. The blood would be sent to the Mississippi State Crime Laboratory. OPD has sent one DUI training officer and investigating officer to Arizona to be trained as phlebotomists and Northwest Community College will take the department through its entire phlebotomy program.

“Probably 14 of our officers will be board certified as phlebotomists,” said McCutchen.

Alderman Hyneman sought to clarify if the blood drawing procedure would change with the support of this resolution.

“Will the blood be taken at the scene?” said Hyneman.

“The blood will be taken at a sterile location,” the chief answered. “The phlebotomy program does not allow us just to show up on scene and take blood. We still either have to have consent or probable cause through the warrant process. It’s not like a PBT. We still have to follow all the legal requirements.”

OPD vehicles are equipped with laptops, so officers will be able to complete the warrant application process from the field. As this is a pilot program, OPD will collect data from the program and submit reports to the state on its effectiveness in the community.

Although Oxford is the first, Mayor Robyn Tannehill believes the electronic warrant program will reach the entire state.

“I believe it will be a statewide program,” said Tannehill. “Our legislators trust [McCutchen] to develop a program and policy that perhaps when they implement it statewide, which I think they will at some point, all of the policies and procedures are in place and well tested.”