Blood Tests for Drunk Drivers. Why Not?


Read more of Mark's work at his blog D.A. Confidential.

I read a story earlier this week about the Dallas police considering a new policy when it comes to DWI cases: blood tests in every case. Here’s the story.

So I guess show it works is: you get pulled over and the cop suspects you have been drinking. He does the usual tests and if you fail, you are arrested. He then asks if you would consent to a blood test, and if you refuse he goes in search of a warrant to draw blood.

I sat and thought for a while before writing this, because I know that the forced taking of people’s blood is a little draconian, even dracula-onian, to many. But I think I like the policy, and here’s why:

— it offers certainty. Experienced drunks can get through the SFSTs (Standardized Field Sobriety Tests) just well enough to raise reasonable doubt, and anyway juries often seem hesitant to base a conviction, certainly at the felony level, on these tests alone. But there’s no fooling a blood test. And, remember, the man who has a bum leg and insists he’s not drunk, that he just has no balance, runs no risk of a DWI conviction if he is, in fact, sober and is given a blood test.

— it will be a deterrent. I have always thought that DWI is one of those crimes that can be deterred, mostly because it’s a compound crime that requires both drinking and driving – and most people are more interested in the first half, so can possibly be persuaded against the second. And if you know that a flashing light in your rear view mirror means a certain conviction, then you will be more careful.

— if I’m right that it’s a deterrent, then it will save lives. Enough said.

Now, there’s the case against, which I’ll try to address:

— it’s a violation of civil rights. I agree that it seems invasive, at first blush. But we already do it and I don’t see any successful legal challenges (and if it were truly a violation of the Constitution, you can bet they’d be flying). And unless someone consents the officer will need probable cause for a warrant, in other words before he can have blood drawn he’ll need some other evidence that the person is intoxicated. So, it’s not like we’ll be randomly jabbing innocent people along the road side. Really this is just evidence collection, something we do in every criminal case. We take DNA, fingerprints, blood, hair samples, etc in all different types of cases. Why should DWI be excepted? (I am assuming here that the person drawing the blood is a properly trained individual, of course.)

— it’s expensive. At first, maybe. According to the Dallas Morning News it’ll cost at least an additional $360,000 a year. But I think those costs will be offset. First, the story mentions that there will be fewer trials which means less overtime for testifying cops. It also means less time (and therefore money) lost by judges, court admin, prosecutors, jurors etc when one of these cases go to trial. And, in my experience, these cases get tried more than any other (two of my five last years were DWIs). This would free up the court system to try other cases, speed dockets along, and provide more sure justice to those accused of DWI.

What do you think? Did I miss anything?

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