July 12, 2010
Governor David A. Paterson today signed legislation that will immediately permit certified nurse practioners and advance emergency medical technicians to draw blood without direct physician supervision from motorists who are suspected of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The bill resulted from the tragic death of two-time Olympic gold medalist Jack Shea and other cases where a legal loophole enabled indisputably impaired drivers to evade prosecution. Under the prior law, if a police officer asked medical personnel to draw blood from a suspected drunk or impaired driver following a collision, and a physician did not directly supervise the procedure, the evidence was inadmissible.
“Over the past year, with Leandra’s Law and other initiatives, I have fought to deter drunken driving and to appropriately penalize those who get behind the wheel of a car while under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” Governor Paterson said. “Advanced emergency medical technicians draw blood all the time without direct supervision from a doctor and this measure simply brings the legal standard for withdrawal of blood in drunken and impaired driving cases into conformity with standard medical practice. Jack Shea’s Law will close a loophole that allowed several guilty individuals to evade justice.”
Mr. Jack Shea, the 91-year-old former Olympian, was involved in a motor vehicle accident in January 2002. Both Mr. Shea and the other driver were taken to Adirondack Medical Center (AMC), where no doctor was on duty. Since Mr. Shea was the more severely injured, the physician’s assistant and registered nurse at AMC focused on his treatment and an advanced emergency medical technician, at the request of a police officer and with the consent of the driver, drew blood from the motorist whose vehicle collided with Mr. Shea’s.
A test revealed that the driver had a blood alcohol content of 0.15, or nearly twice the legal limit, and he was indicted for vehicular manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and driving while intoxicated. However, since the blood draw was not supervised by a physician, the evidence was suppressed and the charges were dismissed – the same outcome in several other cases where a physician was not available to supervise a blood draw of a suspected drunk or impaired driver.
Drunken drivers cause about 9,000 accidents and kill approximately 400 people annually in New York State. Under Governor Paterson’s leadership, the State has taken several steps over the past year to strengthen its drunken and impaired driving laws. For instance, Leandra’s Law made it a felony to drive drunk with a child in the car and, as of August 15, will require everyone convicted of a misdemeanor or felony drunken driving offense – even first time offenders – to install and maintain an ignition interlock device in any vehicle they drive.
The following statements were provided in support of the Governor signing the “Jack Shea” bill into law:
Senator Martin Malavé Dilan said: “The family of Jack Shea, an Olympic Gold medalist, had to both endure the loss of a father, grandfather and friend to a drunk driver, and watch as a legal loophole allowed for the defendant to escape the full extent of the law. Shea’s Law gives law enforcement the ability to facilitate an essential component to field sobriety testing. Having immediate access to these blood samples is critical to determining guilt or innocence, in cases where drunk driving is suspected.”
Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. said: “Jack Shea’s Law closes a legal loophole which drunk drivers have used to escape prosecution, even when they kill someone. This is a commonsense measure which gives law enforcement another tool to bring drunk drivers to justice. I thank Governor Paterson for signing this legislation and being a strong partner in the fight against drunk driving.”
Senator Betty Little said: “This law is about justice. It’s about ensuring that victims of drunk driving accidents and their families are not victimized further by a technicality in the law that allows someone to walk free despite clear and convincing evidence. I commend Jim Shea for his relentless advocacy to make this happen and also my colleague, Senator Chuck Fuschillo, who led the Senate effort to pass this bill.”
Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward said: “No family should have to suffer what the Shea family did when their father and grandfather Jack Shea was killed by a drunk driver who walked on a technicality. The Shea bill will ensure that evidence is secured quickly and professionally to assure drunk drivers who injure or kill someone will not go unpunished.”
Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg said: “Current law does not fully ensure the prosecution of those who kill or injure others due to drunk driving. Our medical facilities are staffed with trained, licensed people who can withdraw blood. To require that only a physician can perform or supervise this task is woefully inadequate. This new law will ensure that evidence needed to prosecute will be gathered in a responsible, secure manner.”
Derek Champagne, President of the District Attorney Association of the State of New York, said: “Never again will this technicality lead to further heartache for victims’ families. Families of victims are put through enough, without our system further victimizing them. This common sense correction (in a hyper technical area) is clearly an appropriate change in our law and will hopefully serve as an example of how we can protect defendants rights but also ensure that the people of this State have the appropriate, and necessary evidence to present to juries.”
Kathleen Hogan, Warren County District Attorney, and Past President of the District Attorney Association of the State of New York, said: “Prior to today, across the State, blood results in hundreds of alcohol related crashes were suppressed, because the vehicle and traffic law irrationally limited who was authorized to draw blood from a suspected drunk driver, resulting in critical evidence being suppressed and cases being dismissed. Jack Shea was one of those cases where justice was denied, because of this anomaly. With Governor Paterson signing this legislation today, that injustice is eliminated and drunk drivers, especially those who kill or injure innocent people, will be held responsible for their reckless conduct.”