Thanks to a recent ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the controversial law enforcement practice known as “no refusal” DUI traffic stops may finally undergo some important changes. That’s because the state’s highest criminal court deemed the Texas law that authorizes police officers to conduct warrantless blood draws from suspected drunk drivers unconstitutional.
The case began back in 2012, when David Villarreal was pulled over for a minor traffic infraction. Villarreal refused to perform any field sobriety tests and was ultimately arrested and taken to a nearby hospital after the officer suspected the man of being impaired. The officer then instructed the hospital staff to draw Villarreal’s blood, all without ever bothering to secure a warrant.
Up until now, law enforcement officials in Texas have said that this kind of behavior was legal because of a state law which allows for the blood draws of suspected drunk drivers in certain circumstances. Villarreal’s attorney challenged the results of the blood test, saying that in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court case on the issue, the officer should have first secured a warrant before taking the man’s blood.
A trial court judge agreed with Villarreal and said that the blood sample ought to be inadmissible given the unconstitutional search and seizure that took place in the case. The state appealed the mater, eventually bringing it up to the Court of Criminal Appeals.
The Court found that a nonconsensual search of a drunk driver’s blood, when conducted in the absence of a warrant or an exception to the warrant requirement, is unconstitutional. Specifically, the Court wrote that allowing such warrantless blood draws would violate drivers’ Fourth Amendment rights.
The immediate impact of the ruling is that a crucial bit of evidence in Villarreal’s case will remain excluded when he is retried. Though the blood test results won’t be allowed in court, prosecutors say they will use a videotape of the man’s arrest and testimony from the arresting officer to bolster their case.
Villarreal’s lawyer made clear that while the result is a good news, it does not go far enough to truly protect drunk drivers from being forced into giving blood against their will. After all, the case only says that such tests won’t be allowed into evidence if done without first securing a warrant. This means that things like the practice of “no refusal” DUI sweeps may be allowed, but with changes in how they are handled. Such mandatory tests can theoretically continue, but officers will need to have a warrant before they can force any suspected drunk drivers to submit to chemical tests.
Source: Article by Lauren McGaughy, published at Chron.com.