Judges resist plan for DWI crackdown

August 27, 2008 5:18:21 PM PDT
Law enforcement agencies across Texas have been cracking down on drunk drivers, and the way they're going about it is causing a stir. It has to do with the way warrants are obtained. Some defense attorneys and even judges are now saying it might be overreaching.Officers and deputies will be out looking for impaired drivers this holiday weekend. A "no refusal weekend" has never been tried before in Fort Bend County. But some judges say there are certain conditions under which they will not sign paperwork forcing someone's blood to be drawn.

Fort Bend County District Attorney John Healey has identified the 18 counties of 20 around the greater Houston area that run "no refusal" weekends -- an effort usually on holiday weekends when authorities will force the blood to be drawn of a suspected drunk driver if that person refuses a breathalyzer test.

He said, "It is an effort to get at the truth. And who doesn't want to get the truth?"

Like other counties have done, Healey says his prosecutors will be on duty at the sheriff's office this weekend to draw up paperwork necessary for a judge to sign before such a blood draw can take place. Under his plan, Healey says the assistant DA could fax an affidavit for an evidentiary warrant to the judge. That's something that's causing concern among some judges.

Hon. Thomas Culver, III, of the 240th District Court, said, "We want to look at the police officer eye to eye before we sign a document. I don't think the district attorney is going to argue with that."

Judge Culver says he would never sign such paperwork if it was faxed to him. So Healey says judges will be given a choice. If a judge wants, a prosecutor and an officer will go to that judge's home in person.

The larger issue may be criticism from defense attorneys.

"Basically the state of Texas is asking the judges to 'join our team.' Judges are supposed to be fair and impartial all the way through," said defense attorney Ralph Gonzalez.

Healey agrees that judges need to be fair and impartial. He also says the highest criminal court in the state sees no problem forcing a drunk driving suspect to give up a blood sample.

"This is a perfectly valid, legal and constitutional way to gain information, again, gain the truth as to whether this person had a presumptive level of alcohol or drugs in his system," Healey explained.

This is still a relatively new concept -- forcing a blood draw from a non-willing person. The chief deputy at Fort Bend's Sheriff's office even questions whether it is legal. The DA says the highest criminal court in the state has ruled that it is, though Chief Craig Brady wonders if a challenge to that ruling is far off.

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