The Waiting Game
Blood draws are a routine part of medical care, but in drunk driving cases, the process takes on a new level of significance. If the phlebotomist cleanses your arm and fails to wait the appropriate length of time, called the dry time, before inserting the needle, the sample may be compromised.
Why would a phlebotomist make such a mistake? Let’s start by differentiating between the antiseptic wipes used in medical and legal blood draws.
Medical blood draws are different from legal blood draws. In medical blood draws, the antiseptic wipes used to cleanse the arm before inserting the needle are typically ethanol swabs. Ethanol swabs dry in 30 seconds and are excellent antiseptics.
In a legal blood test kit, however, the antiseptic wipes are usually Povidone-Iodine or Betadine, which are water-based chemicals. This is because ethanol -- the chemical present in alcohol -- would compromise the sample and render any BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) testing useless. The water-based chemicals used in these antiseptic wipes take much longer to dry than ethanol swabs.
The phlebotomist is a critical link in the chain of custody of your blood sample. They may also be a key player in your defense.
Phlebotomists are responsible for ensuring the proper collection, handling, and documentation of blood samples in OWI investigations. These samples are collected for forensic analysis and can be used as evidence in legal proceedings.
If you are arrested for drunk driving and take a blood test, a phlebotomist will puncture a vein, usually in the arm, to draw blood. Strict protocols must be followed to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the sample. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details, and phlebotomists used to drawing blood in medical settings often miss one critical detail: Dry-time.
To maintain the accuracy of the sample, the phlebotomist must allow your arm to completely dry after cleansing it with the antiseptic wipe before they can insert the needle. Ethanol wipes take approximately 30 seconds to dry, whereas water-based wipes found in legal test kits can take several minutes to dry. If the phlebotomist inserts the needle before that tacky, yellow Povidone-Iodine completely dries on your arm, they haven’t properly cleansed the injection site.
The implications of this seemingly minor detail are significant -- the admissibility of your blood sample in court may depend on whether the phlebotomist adhered to the appropriate drying time. A contaminated blood sample due to inadequate drying can produce a false high BAC test result, impacting your legal outcomes. Phlebotomists may miss this detail because they are used to using the ethanol swabs, which dry in well under a minute.
Attorney Andrew Mishlove of Mishlove & Stuckert, LLC, recently put an antiseptic wipe to the test on his own arm to demonstrate how much longer water-based wipes take to dry compared to medical, ethanol wipes.