search warrant

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". 

The U.S. Senate will soon vote on a law that would gravely undermine Americans’ privacy and give expanded, unbridled surveillance authority over people’s emails to more than 22 government agencies.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, the influential Democratic chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has capitulated to law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Justice Department, and is sponsoring a bill that authorizes widespread warrantless access to Americans’ emails, as well as files on Google Docs, direct messages on Twitter and so on, without a search warrant. It also would give the FBI and Homeland Security more authority, in some circumstances, to gain full access to Internet accounts without notifying either the owner or a judge. 

Leahy’s bill would only require the federal agencies to issue a subpoena, not obtain a search warrant signed by a judge based on probable cause. It also would permit state and local law enforcement to access Americans’ correspondence stored on systems not offered to the public, including university networks, without warrants.

Even in situations that would still require a search warrant, the proposed law would excuse law enforcement officers from obtaining a warrant (and being challenged later in court) if they claim an “emergency” situation.

Not only that, but a provider would have to notify law enforcement in advance of any plans to tell its customers they’ve been the target of a warrant, order, or subpoena. The agency then could order the provider to delay notification of customers whose accounts have been accessed from 3-10 business days or, in some cases, up to 360 days.

Agencies that would receive civil subpoena authority for electronic communications include the Federal Reserve, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Maritime Commission, the Postal Regulatory Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Mine Enforcement Safety and Health Review Commission. There is no good legal reason why agencies like these need blanket access to people’s personal information with a mere subpoena, rather than a warrant.

One might expect better of Leahy given his liberal credentials, but his performance has been quite disappointing.  In fact, he had a hand in making the USA PATRIOT Act bill less protective of civil liberties. Nor has the Obama administration been helpful in this regard — quite to the contrary. Expectations of  law enforcement types might not be as high in terms of protecting civil liberties, but they should not be as unsatisfactory as they are with proponents of constitutional freedoms.  

The revelations about how the FBI perused former CIA Director David Petraeus’ emails without a warrant should alarm us all as people who have less power and prestige than he did.

If the Fourth Amendment is to have any meaning, it is that police must obtain a search warrant, backed by probable cause, before reading Americans’ emails or other communications. If we are to preserve our constitutional protection from warrantless searches that are not reviewed by the courts, we need to let our U.S. senators from Texas hear from us immediately and resoundingly.

We cannot allow the government to undermine our rights bit by bit, even in the name of national security, which too often is the justification the government so casually uses.  As Ben Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Ramirez is Chairman and CEO of the International Bank of Commerce-Zapata and Harrington serves as director of the Texas Civil Rights Project and an adjunct professor at the UT School of Law.