In the Northern Territory, police officers have extensive powers to require drivers to give a sample of their blood for drug or alcohol testing at a hospital or a medical centre. Generally speaking, these powers can only be exercised if there is a suspicion that a driver has committed an offence of driving under the influence of alcohol or a drug, or, in the case of testing for alcohol, the driver cannot take a breath test for medical reasons. It is an offence to refuse to give a blood sample. The rules for how blood samples are given and what your rights are if you are required to give a blood sample are contained in the Traffic Act.
Testing for alcohol in the blood
Under the Traffic Act, police officers can require a driver to undertake a breath test or breath analysis to detect whether they have been driving under the influence of alcohol either randomly, or if the police officer reasonably suspects you have committed a drink driving offence, been involved in a crash, or been involved in a crash under the influence of alcohol. However, if a driver cannot perform a breath test or breath analysis because doing so might be detrimental to their medical condition, or they cannot perform the test because they have a disability, a police officer cannot require the driver to take a breath test or breath analysis. Instead, the police officer can require the driver to attend a hospital or medical centre to take a sample of their blood for testing.
Testing for drugs in the blood
Police officers in the Northern Territory can require a driver to take a saliva test if they suspect they have committed an offence of driving under the influence of a prohibited drug (e.g. cocaine or methamphetamines), or they have been involve in a crash. Alternatively, a police officer can require a driver to give a blood sample, whether or not they have taken a saliva test and whether or not they are capable of taking a saliva test. A police officer can require a blood sample to be taken whether or not a saliva test suggests there is a prohibited drug in a driver’s blood.
Procedure for taking blood sample
If a driver is required to give a blood sample for testing, the police officer who makes the direction must arrange for the driver to have the sample taken at a hospital or at a medical centre and only by a doctor, a registered nurse or a person who is qualified to take blood samples. A blood sample can also be taken from any person who is over 15 years old and who goes to a hospital or medical centre for treatment after being in a crash (including from persons who are unconscious or otherwise cannot consent to having a sample of their blood taken). If the person is taken to a hospital, the sample must be taken as soon as possible and roughly half of it should be made available to the person from whom it was taken. However, a hospital or medical centre staff member can refuse to take a sample if it would be detrimental to that person’s medical condition, if the person suffered injuries in a car crash more than 12 hours earlier, if the level of alcohol in the person’s blood is already known, or if 4 hours has passed since the person got to the hospital or medical centre.
Offence for refusing to give blood
If you are required to have a blood sample be taken, it is an offence to refuse to comply with a police officer’s arrangements to take you to a hospital or medical centre for taking the sample. It is also an offence to not give a sufficient sample of your blood for analysis. The maximum penalty for these offences is 10 penalty units (i.e. $1,490) or 12 months’ imprisonment (for a first offence). However, if you have been caught drink driving, driving with prohibited drugs in your blood or refusing to take a breath test or give a sample of blood before, the maximum penalty is increased to 20 penalty units (i.e. $2,980) or 12 months’ imprisonment. You will also be automatically disqualified from driving for 12 months or, if you have previously committed another drug or alcohol related driving offence, you may be disqualified from driving for up to 5 years. It is a defence that you could not give a sample of blood because it would cause a deterioration in your medical condition or for some other reasonable grounds.
Blood samples as evidence
The results of a blood sample can be used in a Northern Territory court as evidence that you had alcohol or drugs in your blood when you committed a driving offence. However, it cannot be used as evidence for proceedings under the Misuse of Drugs Act. This Act covers offences such as possessing or supplying drugs.