Pro: Procedure could save lives, deter drunken driving

Dec. 15, 2013 at 6:15 a.m.

Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor said he's an advocate for any policy that would discourage someone from driving under the influence of alcohol.

If drivers know they cannot dodge the law on a technicality, they will think twice before getting behind the wheel while intoxicated, he said.

Enacting a no-refusal policy - in which the process of obtaining a warrant for a blood sample would be streamlined and supported by officers to the magistrate to the district attorney - would close loopholes and force drivers to be more responsible, the sheriff said.

"If we all know there is a zero-tolerance policy, more people will pay attention to themselves, family and friends," O'Connor said.

In 2011, Bexar County expanded its current weekend no-refusal policy to an everyday practice. The change allows officers to process suspected offenders efficiently and quickly, San Antonio Police Department spokeswoman Sandy Gutierrez said. Bexar County District Attorney Susan D. Reed led the initiative.

If a driver refuses a field sobriety test in San Antonio, officers transport the driver to the magistrate's office where a blood test is drawn, Gutierrez said.

Victoria Police Chief J.J. Craig would be in favor of beginning a similar process as long as he has the support from the district attorney and judges, he said.

"It wouldn't work if they weren't on board," Craig said. "It could work. It's just a matter of putting together a system."

Craig said it also could help with a more successful prosecution.

"I'm in support of supporting officers in collecting evidence," said Victoria District Attorney Stephen Tyler. "I'm in support of following law to gather evidence."

Tyler said in order for an officer to obtain a warrant for blood draw, three things must be met: The judge must be able to identify who they're communicating with, the officer must be able to place that affidavit under oath, and the officer must be able to communicate probable cause to the judge.

"Whether electronic or on stone tablets, I'm satisfied as long as it meets legal requirements," Tyler said.

Since 2008, more than 66 percent of DWI cases filed in the Victoria County clerk's office have resulted in a conviction. In district court, 195 out of 303 cases from 2008 to present have resulted in a conviction.

However, of the 1,446 driving while intoxicated county court cases, 190 of them were either dismissed, convicted of a lesser charge, acquitted or deferred.

"You make a lawful arrest, and then the person gets a reduction and gets off - that's not encouraging," O'Connor said. "I'm more concerned of injuries and loss of life.

"Maybe we'll save that person's life."

Con: Policy could lead to doubts on probable cause



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