Independent testing of blood for drugs or alcohol when a client is in custody

In some cases, an attorney needs a defendant’s blood to be collected for independent toxicology testing immediately after arrest and no specimen has been collected by the state. The presence of a controlled/impairing substance and its metabolites will dissipate within hours or days, so time is of the essence if an attorney wishes to have this evidence collected and tested. This is an example of why it is important to meet a new client as soon as possible. In a case where the defendant is in custody, it can be challenging to arrange for this collection in a timely manner.

Here are some steps that attorneys can follow to arrange the testing for a client in custody:

  1. Consider the time frame within which the sample needs to be collected in order for the substance to be detected. Asking the client about the timing of ingestion, amount, and history with the substance may yield relevant information for determining whether testing should be done. For appointed cases, counsel can contact Sarah Olson for assistance in finding an appropriate toxicology or pharmacology expert who can offer guidance about how quickly a substance is metabolized and what type of testing will be most effective.
  2. Identify a lab that can conduct the testing. The lab should be an accredited laboratory experienced in forensic testing. Discuss with the lab what type of testing to conduct and the type of report needed. Ideally the lab would be able to perform both screening (immunoassay) and confirmatory (GC-MS or LC-MS/MS) testing as needed, and be able to quantitate the amount present, if needed. The lab can provide specific information about what type of sample to collect, best practices for collection and labeling, how to ship the sample, and what the lab will do with the sample after testing. Request from the lab any documentation that you need to submit with the sample. If you need help identifying a lab for an appointed case, contact Sarah Olson.
  3. Identify a registered nurse or phlebotomist who can travel to the jail to collect the sample. If you need help identifying a qualified health care professional for an appointed case, contact Sarah Olson.
  4. Request funding authorization for the independent testing/flat fee services for appointed cases or by making an ex parte motion or making the appropriate request of the Capital Defender’s Office in a potentially capital case. This sample ex parte motion can be adapted.
  5. Request that a court order be entered to allow a qualified health care professional to collect the sample from a defendant in custody, authorize funding for their work in an appointed case, and grant independent testing. This sample ex parte motion for sample collection and independent testing can be adapted. Counsel should also complete an AOC-G-309 Form or IDS-029 Form and submit it to the appropriate decision-making authority.
  6. Each facility may have different requirements for sample collection. It may be worthwhile to inquire about those requirements prior to seeking the order. Counsel should be aware that law enforcement might contact the District Attorney’s Office about this request and should consider whether to draft the order in a way that anticipates it being shared with the DA’s Office and consider enlisting help from the DA’s Office to facilitate compliance as needed.
  7. Provide the nurse/phlebotomist with a copy of the order and ensure that proper chain of custody is documented.
  8. Arrange for shipment of the blood sample and your request as instructed by the lab using a trackable carrier, like FedEx or UPS.

IDS Forensic Resource Counsel Sarah Olson (sarah.r.olson@nccourts.org) can provide additional information.

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