Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Criminalizing automobile accidents

While flipping channels late last night I came across a taped speech by Warren Diepraam of the Harris County DA's Office on one of the municipal channels. He was speaking to some group about traffic issues. Diepraam said he went to Chuck Rosenthal, the disgraced former district attorney, and asked to set up a vehicular crimes division of the office.

Diepraam went on to talk about the innovative methods being used by the attorneys in the vehicular crimes division.

When prosecutors talk about innovative methods they're really talking about finding ways to charge citizens with criminal offenses for accidental conduct or to enhance existing penalties by piling on additional charges.

Most car accidents are the result of negligent behavior on the part of one or more drivers - not criminal conduct. It's a sad fact that people who did nothing wrong die in car crashes. And although the burden is often devastating on the deceased's family, charging another person with a criminal offense because he was involved in a wreck doesn't change what happened.

Diepraam also made an interesting comment regarding "no refusal" weekends -- he stated that they were necessary because of the large number of suspects in Harris County who refuse to provide evidence to the police after being arrested for DWI. That speaks volumes to Diepraam's attitude toward the constitutional rights of citizens in Harris County.

Section 724.012 of the Texas Transportation Code governs the taking of specimens. The police may request one or more specimens of a driver's breath or blood if there are reasonable grounds to believe he was operating a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated. Section 724.012(b)(3) states that a peace officer is required to take a specimen of breath or blood if, at the time of the arrest, any individual died, or will die, as a result of the accident, an individual other than the suspect suffered serious bodily injury or the driver refuses to provide a specimen voluntarily when asked.

If the specimen is of blood, per Section 724.017(a), only a physician, qualified technician, chemist, registered professional nurse or licensed vocational nurse may take the sample. Additionally, the blood must be drawn in a sanitary place. Per Section 724.017(c) emergency medical services personnel are not qualified to take the sample.

A person who is incapable of refusing to submit a specimen is deemed to have consented to the request per Section 724.014(c). In other words, if you are rendered unconscious in the accident, the police can take a blood sample without even asking for it.

So much for your right against compelled self-incrimination.

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