PALM BEACH, Fla., May 21 (UPI) -- A federal magistrate in Florida has ruled in favor of a nurse who sued after being arrested for refusing to draw blood from a suspected drunken driver.
Marjorie DePalis-Lachaud, a nurse at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Riviera Beach, found herself in handcuffs in a Palm Beach County sheriff's squad car three years ago after she refused to take a blood sample without a doctor's order. The sheriff's department contended she was required to comply, based on a 2008 letter written by a county prosecutor.
But U.S. Magistrate James Hopkins wrote this month that Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and any "officer of reasonable competence" should have realized a medical professional can't be arrested for refusing to conduct a blood test, The Palm Beach Post reported Sunday.
"The Sheriff's Department knew or should have known implementation of the policy would inevitably lead to violations of the Fourth Amendment for false arrest," Hopkins wrote in his ruling rejecting the department's contention that the letter written by then-Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer gave deputies the authority to order blood be drawn.
Krischer had written that "any nurse who refuses to draw blood when requested by a law enforcement officer is in violation of [state law] as actively obstructing a police officer in his lawful investigation."
Hopkins said Krischer's unsigned letter was "woefully inadequate," noting he didn't include any case law to back up his opinion. The magistrate said that while Florida law gives officers the authority to force a suspected drunken driver to submit to a blood test, it doesn't require a nurse to perform the procedure.
"The court finds that the legal authority of the letter is uncertain and that a reasonable officer would have viewed it warily," Hopkins wrote. "An officer would be proceeding at his own peril, were he to place all his faith in a 1-year-old, unsigned opinion letter that fails to cite any case law, as a foolproof blanket method of handling such situations."
With the ruling, DePalis-Lachaud can proceed in seeking damages from the sheriff's office for violating her constitutional rights, the newspaper said.