Not sure what I think about this.
A decision by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to demand blood tests for every drunken-driving suspect who refuses breath tests has drawn an unusual opponent: Houston police officers.
“We’re just very concerned it’s going to take officers off the street for an extended amount of time,” said Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union.
Hunt said that, unlike officers specially trained to find and arrest drunken drivers, most officers are not used to navigating the system, which includes swearing out a warrant, waiting for a judge to sign it, then finding someone at a hospital to draw the suspect’s blood. A single arrest could take an entire shift, he said.
“They’re not going to be as savvy on how to do these warrants, so it’s going to take them six to eight hours, and that means the officer is off the street for that entire time,” Hunt said. “It’s a major issue.”
Houston defense lawyers echoed that concern.
“Spending so much time, energy and money to prosecute a Class A or Class B misdemeanor is ridiculous,” said Todd Dupont, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyer’s Association.
Prosecutors say the change, which took effect in April, will save time and money in the long run because drunken-driving cases are more likely to be resolved via plea agreement than a trial.
In San Antonio, police have been mandating blood testing for all suspected drunken-driving cases for nearly two years. The key, Bexar County prosecutors said, was a gradual implementation and money earmarked for computers, facilities and a nursing staff.
On the one hand, doing blood tests as a matter of routine would lead to much more certainty of outcome, because blood testing is more accurate than the notoriously imprecise Breathalyzers, and not subjective or unproven like field sobriety tests or horizontal gaze nystagmus. The experience in Bexar County appears to be positive, though we didn’t get a defense bar perspective on that. On the other hand, it’s more expensive up front and far more invasive. It is a lot of resources to put into combating a misdemeanor crime, and it doesn’t really do anything about the fact that a relatively small number of repeat offenders are responsible for a disproportionate amount of drunk driving incidents and mayhem. If it means that we’d be getting rid of the less reliable methods of evidence gathering for DUI arrests then there’s value to this, but I’d like to know more before I make up my mind.
UPDATE: Byron Schirmbeck had some questions about this new development as well, and he put them in writing and sent them to the DA’s office. He got this response, which he graciously shared with me for publication here. Worth your time to read.