Bill would make obtaining warrants for DWI blood samples easier

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Law enforcement officials may have an easier time obtaining warrants to draw blood samples from suspected drunken drivers across counties because of a bill filed in the Texas House of Representatives.

Currently, a person who gets pulled over for drunken driving and refuses to take a Breathalyzer test can be arrested and taken to jail. Law enforcement officials are then required to obtain a search warrant signed by a judge to draw a blood sample from the driver. 

Search warrants signed by district judges can be carried out statewide, but warrants signed by municipal judges are only enforceable in the county where the judge sits. A bill filed by Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, would extend the jurisdiction of municipal judges to contiguous, or adjacent, counties in the case of search warrants for blood samples in DWI cases. 

At a hearing of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Tuesday, committee members heard public testimony regarding the bill.

Patrick Wilson, district attorney for Ellis County, said the bill would be useful when law enforcement officials in smaller counties are looking for judges at night and on weekends.

“Any magistrate who is a licensed attorney may sign the search warrant for the blood, and it’s just unfortunate that if they happened to get the municipal judge who’s an attorney instead of the district judge, that they couldn’t execute that warrant outside the county,” Wilson said in his testimony.

He said the bill would allow officials to avoid administrative issues and potential errors caused by a delay in getting the blood samples.

“Time is of the essence in these types of cases because of the absorption and elimination rates of alcohol, so they want to try to get that blood promptly,” Wilson said.

Chris Howe, who testified at the hearing as an individual, said the bill would undermine the principle behind electing judges within their specific jurisdictions. Howe also said the drawing of blood itself as evidence has been contested in the past.

“Taking blood specimens, while currently settled law, is controversial,” Howe said. “In our state constitution, it says, ‘He should not be compelled to give evidence against himself.’ A blood draw is evidence against yourself.”

Bill Lewis, Mothers Against Drunk Driving spokesman, said the high rate of breath test refusals makes this bill especially necessary. The group is a national organization that advocates for lowering drunken driving rates. 

“The need for this bill is because of the high rate of breath test refusals in this state,” Lewis said in his testimony. “Texas leads the nation in drunk driving, [and] we are among the highest states in the nation in breath test refusals.”

Published on March 6, 2013 as "Legislature may enact stricter DWI testing laws".