How Long Can a Case Be Continued for Lab Reports? How is Blood Evidence Proven in Court? How Long Does It Take to Get Blood Results?
Blood Testing in DWI cases takes time and involves a delicate balance of trial schedules, witness availability, and scientific testing protocols – Bill Powers
What is Chain of Custody?
How a sample is drawn, handled, tested, and stored may involve a review of what lawyers refer to as “Chain of Custody” documentation or records.
In cases where there are allegations of appreciable impairment, the chain may begin with paperwork being filled out regarding drawing a blood sample and thereafter could include recording everyone who handles or takes possession of the blood sample.
DWI Blood Evidence cases in North Carolina often start with a Licensed Chemical Analyst and end with a person responsible for storing and bringing the sample to Court. Evidence may include testimony from a Police Officer whom is a Chemical Analyst regarding the legal request or demand for a sample pursuant to N.C.G.S. §20-16.2.
In contrast, breath samples are often collected by Law Enforcement Officers whom are an LCA or Licensed Chemical Analyst; blood samples are drawn by someone authorized or otherwise “qualified” to take such samples.
Under North Carolina Law, the Charging Officer and Licensed Chemical analyst may be the same person.
Many police officers do not possess the requisite level of experience, training, or certification(s) to collect blood samples. As such, as a practical matter, blood test cases and the associated “draw” of the blood frequently involve a Registered Nurse RN.
[A] physician, registered nurse, emergency medical technician, or other qualified person shall withdraw the blood sample – N.C.G.S. 20-139.1(c)
In North Carolina, two “vials” of blood are commonly collected, when and if possible. Depending on the testing protocols employed, there may be enough blood collected to allow multiple testing or sampling.
The method of storage of blood can become an issue, as it is important to take care to confirm the sample does not become contaminated or change in form / substance due to certain metabolic processes. **The science behind exogenous alcohol production, in addition to being complicated, can be quite contentious.
As such, the first two people listed in the “chain” are often the police officer, followed by the nurse. Once drawn and properly sealed, the Law Officer normally takes possession and control of the sample(s).
The sample may then be “checked-in” at a local law enforcement agency or held in a secure facility called “property control” or “evidence locker.” The person taking responsible for the sample would be the third person in the chain, whenever that transfer of possession takes place.
It is important to note, special care is supposed to be given in the sealing the materials.
Police Officers and other law enforcement officials often seal the boxes or envelopes containing vials of blood using “evidence tape.” Thereafter they may also write their name, initials, and the date on the exterior of the tape and packaging.
The point of such process is to make sure no-one tampers with, changes, or manipulates the materials contained therein for the purposes of evidence at trial.
The sealed evidence may thereafter be taken into possession or control of the Blood Testing Laboratory. The Laboratory Analyst commonly signs-off on a written Chain of Custody form, indicating they are responsible for the sample.
The Analyst may then open the sealed box, draw enough of the blood sample for testing, replace the vial into the blood test kit, re-seal the box or evidence folder and then submit the sample for storage.
During trials, especially cases where a felony is alleged as part of impaired driving, and prior to the introduction of lab test reports, an Assistant District Attorney in North Carolina may call one or more witnesses to explain to the jury (and the Judge if a legal issue arises) how and where the sample(s) were stored.
A statement signed by each successive person in the chain of custody that the person delivered it to the other person indicated on or about the date stated is prima facie evidence that the person had custody and made the delivery as stated – Bill Powers
Blood Sampling Legal Considerations:
- Blood Draw Protocols
- Storage and Refrigeration
- Delivery of samples to Laboratory
- Laboratory Identification, Analysis, and Testing
- Gas Chromatography GC
- Mass Spectroscopy CS
- Re-Sealing and Transport:
- Storage Locker
- Property Control
- Evidence Room
- Transport to Court
- Identification as Evidence
Example Path of Scientific Evidence:
Information Related to Blood Sampling:
- Time and location in which the blood sample was taken
- The person who drew the blood
- Circumstances under which the sample was taken
- Who the laboratory technician was that analyzed the sample
- Accounting for the sample for the entire duration of testing
- Making sure the sample was properly stored and preserved
North Carolina Chain of Custody Law
United States Supreme Court Holding: Bullcoming v New Mexico
Modified transcript of “How Long Does It Take to Get Blood Results” for the hearing impaired
Hi, I’m Bill Powers, and I’ve got another inquiry regarding driving while impaired. The question reads, “How is it possible that this test has not come back yet?” One would normally assume you’re referring to a blood test in North Carolina. Generally speaking, breath tests are almost immediate. You get a test ticket right then and there if you have blown. If they’ve taken a blood sample from you, you normally see two vials of blood and they put it in a box and package it up. The question is why has it taken so long to get the blood test back from the different labs in North Carolina?
I promise you, that is a great frustration not only to prosecutors and law enforcement in the state of North Carolina, but also judges. It can take a very, very long time and a lot of it has to do with the backlog we have in North Carolina. Some of it has to do with the fact that some cases get priority over others. You might imagine a blood case associated with a DWI fatality, or involving serious bodily injury, may get some level of preference or a priority over a more standard driving while impaired. There are a lot of driving-while-impaired cases in North Carolina. There are some jurisdictions that have their own labs and the results come back pretty quickly and there are other jurisdictions that have to send the test out to another city and that can take awhile.
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