Today’s Austin American-Statesman article “Warrants for blood tests in DWI cases increasing” focuses on a growing trend in Travis County Driving While Intoxicated cases.
From small Texas towns to big cities such as Austin and Fort Worth, the practice of using search warrants — traditionally reserved for entering homes and businesses or seizing private property — to obtain the blood of drunken driving suspects is sweeping the state.
In recent months, some law enforcement agencies have begun taking blood in cases in which a suspect is thought to have caused an accident and refused to take a Breathalyzer exam. Others have started doing it when drivers have previous DWI convictions.
Austin Police Department started this practice sometime in the middle of last year:
Austin police Lt. Craig Cannon said officials in the department’s highway enforcement division began looking into the practice last year and started using it a couple of weeks later in certain drunken driving cases.
The handful of officers at the department who primarily handle DWI enforcement might seek search warrants for cases in which drivers are suspected of felony drunken driving, which would include driving with children in the car or instances in which a person has been convicted of DWI in the past five years and when drivers caused an accident. Supervisors must sign off on the warrants.
Suspects’ blood is drawn by a nurse at the Travis County Jail and taken to the Austin police forensic center, where it is tested. Results are quickly sent back to the DWI team and included in information sent to prosecutors.
I have to agree with David Frank, a fellow Austin DWI lawyer who is quoted as saying:
It seems like an overly invasive procedure to obtain evidence. The invasion into the body is a much more significant invasion than what we usually think of in terms of searching for evidence.
Since this warrant procedure for forcing blood draws from DWI suspects who choose to exercise their right to refuse a breath test is fairly new, I think it’s fair to say that we will be seeing more and more of these cases litigated in the appellate courts in the near future.