Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Law enforcement must balance with rights

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Dec. 26, 2013 at 6:26 a.m.

Driving while drunk is a serious mistake that happens far too often in our society. Every day, people who have had a few too many climb behind the wheel and place their own and others' lives in danger.

Victoria is no exception to this. We've seen our share of drunken drivers who have either been apprehended or caused wrecks while under the influence. But unlike some other cities, such as San Antonio, Victoria does not have a no-refusal policy when it comes to testing people who are suspected of driving while intoxicated.

A no-refusal policy streamlines the process officers go through to obtain a warrant for a blood sample. Officers can submit an application - either written or electronically - showing probable cause to a judge, who would then sign off on a warrant. Members of law enforcement, including Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor, say this system can close loopholes in the current system that can allow drunken drivers to avoid consequences.

On the surface, this seems like a good idea, but the concept still gives us pause. Victoria law enforcement officers already have a few circumstances where taking blood samples is mandatory, including if a child under the age of 15 is in the vehicle, if the driver has two or more previous drunken driving convictions or if a serious injury or fatality has occurred. These conditions give clear, justifiable reasons for invading a person's privacy and ensuring the driver is not under the influence.

The idea of simply filling out a form and getting a stamp of approval to take a person's blood raises a red flag. It doesn't take much experience to learn how to fill out a form with the answers that will offer a desired result. In addition, the process of filling out a form or questionnaire is a detached process. The current system requires officers to speak to a judge and requires more immediate accountability.

The U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment guarantees the right of citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures and says a warrant must be issued based on probable cause and "supported by oath or affirmation." The implementation of a no-refusal policy comes dangerously close to treading on that basic right.

We recognize that it is important to discourage and punish drunken driving. But the current system has proved to be effective in the past. A few exceptions may slip through these loopholes but overall, we trust the current system, which has been tried and tested over years of use, to do what it was created to do: keep us safe while also protecting and respecting our rights as citizens.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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