Blood Tests May Replace Breath Tests for Dallas DUI Arrests
By: Mike Stetzer
The Dallas Morning News is reporting that Dallas police are attempting to join a national trend in requiring all suspected drunk drivers take a blood test.
A proposed policy would take the breathalyzer and other breath tests out of the equation. Instead, police would seek a search warrant to draw blood from suspects who refused the blood test.
However, according to the report, the cost of such a program may make it hard to implement at this time. Estimates suggest that the program would cost at least $360,000 per year. While some proponents think that other savings could compensate for the costs, in difficult economic times this price tag may be too steep for the Dallas police force.
Dallas police officials have met with officials from local Parkland hospital to explore the cost of testing the blood of every drunk driving suspect. In the hypothetical agreement, Parkland hospital staff would draw blood from Dallas DWI suspects at the jail. The hospital’s labs would then test the samples.
There are about 3,600 people arrested each year for suspicion of driving while intoxicated in Dallas. About a third of those suspects already undergo blood testing as a part of their case. This testing currently occurs at the Dallas County Jail.
Police say there are several advantages to blood testing in drunk driving cases, according to the Dallas Morning News. Blood tests are able to detect the presence of drugs in a suspect’s system, whereas Breathalyzer tests are not. Studies also suggest that blood tests result in more defendants pleading guilty in DWI cases, with fewer cases going to court, and an increased rates of conviction. Blood tests, in other words, provide a stronger case for prosecutors, with fewer variables.
Courtroom issues seem to surround the perceived accuracy of breath tests in detecting blood alcohol content.
According to co-chair of the DWI committee for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, “There’s no question that the blood test is more accepted in the courtroom by a jury than the breath test. I don’t think too many people question the accuracy of blood testing.
Another offshoot of increased plea deals and fewer court trials would be increased savings for police officers who wouldn’t have to be called in to trial and paid overtime.
“We all know that defense attorneys can place doubt in the minds of the jury as to the reliability of the intoxilyzer instrument,” Dallas Police Sgt. Kenneth Campbell told the Dallas Morning News. “It is much more difficult to place that same doubt for a blood test.”
Dallas already has occasional “no refusal” weekends, like St. Patrick’s Day, when suspected DWI drivers are offered a breath or a blood test and if they refuse, police obtain a warrant to draw and test their blood.
Such a program is already in place year-round in the Texas city of Dalworthington Gardens. According to Chief Bill Waybourn, most of those arrested in the “Can’t take no for an answer” program have agreed to plea deals. The total suspected DWI cases number around 300.
In Houston, as well as in cities in Arizona, there is a movement to train police officers as blood technicians to allow for blood drawing on the scene. In Arizona, many cities including Pheonix, Mesa, Scottsdale and Tuscon have gone to all-blood DUI testing.