In keeping with New Year’s tradition, on 12/29/10 the Austin Police Department issued its yearly press release for New Year’s DWI Enforcement. The highlights for the “No Refusal” DWI initiative included how the state would seek blood warrants for anyone who did not want to voluntarily give a breath or blood sample when stopped for suspicion of DWI. If the on-duty magistrate decided there was probable cause, like it or not, those folks got a needle stuck in their arm by the state.
Local news media reported that for New Year’s 2011, Austin police arrested 15 people for suspicion of DWI. Three of those arrested had circumstances that mandated blood draws automatically. Two others gave samples voluntarily. The remaining ten DWI suspects were issued search warrants for their blood. The results of those tests will be delayed because they have to be submitted to the state lab for analysis.
By comparison to many other “No Refusal” DWI Initiatives, the number of New Year’s arrests (15) was noticeably lower. New Year’s 2010 saw 24 people arrested, and 5 of them had search warrant blood draws. New Year’s 2009 netted 24 DWI arrests as well, with 12 warrants for mandatory blood draws. Austin police began the policy on Halloween 2009, and implement it on occasions or holidays where they believe drunk driving will be higher (New Year’s Eve, Labor Day, 4th of July, Super Bowl Sunday, etc.). Okay, and Halloween, Fat Tuesday, the Saturday after Fat Tuesday, or whenever else a whole lot of people might be out enjoying themselves.
Are mandatory DWI blood samples what we need?
Clearly the goals of the policy, protecting the public from drunk drivers, is worthy. The question is whether we, as a society, are prepared to let the state stick needles into us when we are merely “suspected” of DWI. Still feel like going to that bar for some hot wings and a few pitchers? How about that nice romantic dinner for your anniversary with a few glasses of wine? Two champagne toasts at a wedding? The government makes a big deal out of getting blood samples from people, as if it were the only way to convict DWI defendants. They make press releases touting the percentages of those arrested who are twice the legal limit, or worse. What they never mention is that a sample is only one way of getting a conviction. There’s always the old “lack of normal use of physical or mental faculties” standard, as with all DWI arrests. That’s all it takes to convict for DWI. Now don’t you think those driving at twice the limit would obviously be impaired, without having to stick a needle in them? Don’t you think you can tell an impaired person when you see him on video? You could come to that conclusion from the stats based on the current New Year’s DWI arrests (that would be 10 blood warrants for all 10 arrests)- could it be they were all clearly drunk? Probably drunk enough to be convicted on their videos alone?