New law targets drunk drivers

July 27, 2009 5:20:10 PM PDT
A new law targeting suspected drunk drivers is about to go into effect, giving police the power to bypass a judge when deciding whether a blood test is necessary. It's a law that's firing up debate among civil rights advocates, prosecutors and defense attorneys. Prosecutors believe the new law will help them put dangerous drunk drivers behind bars. But criminal defense attorneys warn that the price will be a major violation of personal privacy and your constitutional rights.

Sticking someone with a needle and forcing them to give blood can bring out some strong emotions. But a new law set to take effect on September 1 will allow police officers to do so even without a search warrant, if they encounter a suspected drunk driver who is a repeat offender, has a passenger under the age of 15 or has a passenger die.

"It requires a warrant to search your home, but it no longer requires a warrant to search your human body," said criminal defense attorney Doug Murphy. "That's pretty severe.

Murphy says the new law gives police officers unchecked discretion over whose blood they can test, creating more opportunities for abuse of power. Murphy believes even innocent drivers will wind up charged with DWI while they wait months for test results to clear them.

He said, "I'm not so much concerned about the drunk drivers as I am the innocent responsible social drinker, where they get thrown into this wide net."

But Eyewitness News 13 legal analyst Joel Androphy says these involuntary blood tests will likely withstand scrutiny in the courts.

"The law says when you get a driver's license, you consent to all this," Androphy explained.

Prosecutors say blood test results will make it easier for them to keep the streets safe.

Brent Mayr with the Harris County District Attorney's Office said, "It makes a huge difference in being able to obtain convictions against intoxicated drivers."

Even though blood tests take longer to process, attorneys warn police officers will be more likely to use them whenever possible because they provide stronger evidence in court than a breathalyzer test.

Current law allows involuntary blood testing without a warrant only when there is an accident involving serious bodily injury or death.

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