Forced Blood Draws Coming To Austin in DWI Cases

KXAN ran a story tonight about Austin Chief of Police Art Acevedo’s plan to do away with breath test refusals in Austin DWI cases:

"My intent in the future is to make it so there is no such thing as a refusal. You can refuse all you want, but we are going to aggressively seek search warrants," said Acevedo.
           
The search warrant would give an officer the right to stick a needle in your arm to get a blood alcohol level, replacing the job of a jail nurse.
           
"It's about saving money for the taxpayer. If I have an officer that's already involved in a case, they're already going to be going to court. Come to find out, the defense attorneys around here are telling people not to give them a test," said Acevedo.

Ouch – literally.  My friend and fellow Austin DWI lawyer Ken Gibson is quoted in the story as well:

"Folks that are exercising their right shouldn't be afraid, that by doing so, 'Bubba Police Officer' may stick them in the arm," said Austin DWI attorney Ken Gibson.
           
Gibson said police officers shouldn't play nurse as well.
           
"The officer's going to have a liability if they don't do it right. The city's going to have a liability if they don't do it right. In today's times of AIDS and hepatitis and everything else, police officers don't want to be out sticking needles in people," said Gibson.

Kenny’s got a point.

First, there’s no way that APD is going to be able to train police officers to be physicians, chemists, registered professional nurses or licensed vocational nurses. So that means Acevedo is going to have to find a way to train them to be ‘qualified technicians’ – the only other category of person allowed to take blood in a DWI case by statute. (See Texas Transportation Code 724.017.)

The law specifically says that emergency medical personnel do not meet the definition of ‘qualified technicians’ so who knows what training Acevedo thinks he can put his officers through to get them to meet the requirements of the statute. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Second, take a look at the last line of 724.017 (b):

This subsection does not relieve a person from liability for negligence in the taking of a blood specimen.

Acevedo knows a thing or two about civil lawsuits against police departments, so he might want to make sure he knows what he’s getting into on this one.

[I guess it could be worse…]

Update: Below the Fold

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Nystagmus: Mostly Leave It Alone

Blogging from the Rusty Duncan seminar, and listening to San Antonio DWI lawyer George Scharmen give an excellent presentation on the Field Sobriety Tests yesterday.

One interesting tidbit. Scharmen argued that while of course you must cross the officer about the 6 out of 6 (isn’t it always all 6 clues?) on the Horizontal Gaze Nystagamus, it’s not important to go on and on about it. In fact, it may give it more effect than the jury would otherwise.

Scharmen said – and my notes are skimpy here – he asks about how the officer is only trained by another officer, not a medical professional; impeaches the officer if necessary with the manual where he has made errors in administration, eg. Holding the stimulus for less than 4 seconds at maximum deviation; asks why the results weren’t reproduced for the jury by placing the subject in front of the vehicle to put the HGN on tape, and then…

“I mostly leave it alone”.

[Scharmen asks more than those 3 or 4 questions of course; he’s just saying he deemphasizes it by doing an effective short cross on it where he can.]

Bill Mange wins a .12 DWI Breath Test Trial

I’m at the Rusty Duncan seminar in San Antonio, and news comes by way of the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association listserv that Austin DWI lawyer Bill Mange just got a Not Guilty verdict on a .12 breath test trial back in Travis County. I heard the jury came back in just under an hour.

Congrats Bill.

I knew you were on to something when I walked into County Court Number 7 yesterday and saw an Intoxilyzer sitting in the middle of the courtroom with a “Defendant’s Exhibit #6” sticker on it.

I assume you’ll be getting that back, eh?

Walking the Imaginary Line

Prosecutor Western Justice has an amusing – so amusing it’s possibly fake? – video up on his website from a DWI arrest. Basically, it’s the falling over type.

WJ introduces the video with this thought:

Defense attorneys always make a big deal that the walk and turn test is on an imaginary line! (gasp). Well, even though it really does not matter if it is an imaginary line or an actual line, here is another reason why some police officers use an imaginary line.

Well, yes, defense attorneys do ‘make a big deal’ about that, and let’s talk about why.

Police officers come into court and testify that attending a Field Sobriety Testing course taught by another police officer makes them an expert in DWI, and juries generally believe them.

In return, DWI lawyers ask jurors to believe the manual from the training the officer received. Seems like a fair bargain.

One common misconception that I see over and over on the part of officers, up to and including some of the local Austin DWI task force officers, is the belief that book doesn’t require that a designated actual line be used.

If asked why the defendant was asked to walk an imaginary line instead of an actual line, most officers reply – some smugly – that ‘the manual’, that is the NHTSA manual, doesn’t require it. Some offer to show the defense lawyer exactly where in the book it says they don’t have to use an actual line.

Invariably, the officer will flip the pages and find this portion of the manual:

Procedures for Walk and Turn Testing

1. Instructions Stage: Initial Positioning and Verbal Instructions

For standardization in the performance of this test, have the suspect assume the heel-to-toe stance by giving the following verbal instructions, accompanied by demonstrations:

“Place your left foot on the line” (real or imaginary). Demonstrate.

[I’m taking this from the February 2006 Edition, Student Manual, page VIII-9 from Session VIII: Concepts and Principles of the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. It should be in Chapter 8 of most or all other manuals.]

That certainly looks at first blush as if the manual says there’s no difference between the difficulty between walking an actual line, or walking an imaginary line. Although, it literally begs the question, “Officer, how wide a line did my client imagine?”

But no. The officer who so testifies is wrong. (Sorry, WJ, you’re wrong too.)

Flip the page once more – VIII-11 in the one I’m reading now - and you come to the part entitled:

4. Test Conditions

Walk-and-Turn test [sic] requires a designated straight line, and should be conducted on a reasonable dry, hard, level, nonslippery surface.

Requires. So, how to explain the seeming discrepancy? Easy.

The first section is talking about “Verbal Instructions” and is clearly labeled so. It is the Instructions Stage. That means… it is talking about the portion of the test where the officer demonstrates the Walk and Turn to the suspect.

So, going by the book, it’s perfectly OK for the officer to show the defendant how to do the test on his own imaginary line if he wants to do it that way. Heck, we all know they don’t even have to demonstrate all 9 steps. They are allowed to do it that way.

But the NHTSA Manual makes no bones about it: if this test is going to be administered properly, then the defendant is supposed to be afforded the opportunity to do it on an actual line. It is literally: required. And yes, that’s a potentially reasonable explanation for someone stepping ‘off the line’ – it wasn’t there in the first place.

Perhaps WJ’s point was that sometimes the defendant is so obviously impaired that it wouldn’t make any difference whether there was an actual line or not. And yes, I have represented more of my fair share of those types of cases.

But as for defense lawyers insisting that their DWI clients be graded properly… I don’t see anything wrong with that.