No Refusal Law Spreads
Texans arrested for drunken driving should be prepared to give blood this holiday season. Cities and counties across the state are increasingly demanding that drunken-driving suspects who refuse to take breathalyzer tests submit to blood tests that measure the amount of alcohol in their systems.
The blood-test policy—dubbed “no refusal” by law-enforcement officials, because it prevents drivers from refusing to provide evidence of intoxication—has grown from a novel procedure used in a few Texas jurisdictions to an initiative used by police statewide, particularly during weekends and holidays when drunken driving is most common. The no-refusal initiative has also caught on in other states, including Florida, Illinois, Louisiana and Missouri.
The attraction for law enforcement and prosecutors is that blood evidence is a powerful tool in front of juries. Armed with blood evidence of intoxication, prosecutors can win convictions in more than 90% of drunk-driving cases, said Houston police Capt. Carl Driskell, who works in the traffic-enforcement division. And often, lawyers say, defendants faced with blood evidence admit their guilt and don’t bother with a trial. “If it bleeds, it pleads,” said Fort Worth prosecutor Richard Alpert.
Texas courts have uniformly upheld the constitutionality of mandatory blood testing, attorneys said. But criminal-defense lawyers say such mandatory tests trample suspects’ rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. “It’s an erosion of civil liberties,” said Austin defense lawyer Samuel Bassett. “If we can poke people involuntarily for evidence, where do we draw the line?”
The use of blood tests to measure a suspect’s blood-alcohol content isn’t new, but these no-refusal initiatives generally streamline the process by having magistrate judges standing by at a police station or other location to issue the needed search warrant. If the warrant is granted, nurses or other medical personnel must administer the test.
Blogger’s Note: I’m sure this will be tested in court. If it is upheld in Texas, I think we’ll see it attempted in other states. In fact, there are reports that it is already being tried elsewhere, although on a sporadic basis and not a part of an officially announced policy.
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