Are no refusal laws crossing the line?

May 21, 2009 2:04:21 PM PDT
Police in our area are using a new type of DWI enforcement, mandatory blood draws, to crack down on drunk drivers like we've never seen before. But is law enforcement crossing the line in order to get more convictions? Most of us have been there before while having a few drinks during a night of fun with friends.

"It was not sit down and one drink right after the other. It was paced out through the night," said Sarah.

Sounds harmless enough, yet this 25-year-old professional whom we'll call Sarah, was about to learn just how risky that type of behavior can be. Her trip home would end in a way she never imagined.

"I just got really quiet and started to cry. I just stopped talking," said Sarah.

Police pulled Sarah over and arrested her on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. While she refused to take the breathalyzer test, Sarah said "they walked into the room and they came back and said here's a warrant for your blood."

Sarah had been stopped during what's called a "no refusal" weekend. It's a controversial new program that allows law enforcement to crack down on suspected drunk drivers like never before by drawing their blood.

"If you go out during one of these programs, you just have to know that, look, we're going to find out one way or another exactly how much alcohol is in your system," said Brent Mayr of the Harris County DA's Office.

During March's "no refusal" in Harris County, 87 warrants were issued and 30 of those were for repeat offenders. Of the 87 who had their blood drawn, 22 have already pled guilty. That's roughly 25%.

"Is the behavior changing? Yes. Is it changing fast enough? Probably not," said Hope Rangel of the Harris County DA's Office.

Harris County still leads the nation in alcohol-related fatalities. While there is support for no refusal, the idea of forced blood draws continues to raise serious concerns over whether or not it's a violation of civil rights.

The concept has also sparked heated debates. A local DWI attorney says what law enforcement is doing is nothing short of a witch hunt.

"We're in a hypersensitive environment where police have standing orders to virtually arrest anybody who drinks and then later drives," said attorney Jonathan Paul.

Sarah describes the entire ordeal as painful, both physically and emotionally. While she doesn't condone drinking and driving, she believes people should have the right to refuse being stuck with a needle.

Even so, as the no refusal programs become more frequent, the days of hiring a good criminal defense attorney to get you off may be over.

"You can't go to a friend's house or have a nice dinner and enjoy a glass of wine with your dinner. You don't have that option anymore," said Sarah.

Sarah and her attorney are still waiting for the analysis of her blood. She said the nurse who drew her blood didn't even wear gloves. Harris County and Montgomery County are both planning additional DWI "no refusal programs" for this coming Memorial Day weekend.

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