The best way to avoid a DWI in Harris County (or the surrounding counties) this weekend is NOT to drive if you've been drinking -- call a cab or call a friend. It's not worth the headache, the hassle or the money you're going to have to pay an attorney.
Houston-area police start holiday DWI crackdown
'No refusal' program allows quick warrants to take blood, if drivers refuse
By ERIC HANSON Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Aug. 29, 2008, 8:14AM
Jessica Kourkounis For the Chronicle
Harris County Assistant District Attorney Warren Diepraam says blood samples provide powerful evidence in DWI cases.
RICHMOND — Police in several Houston-area counties will conduct special DWI operations over the Labor Day holiday weekend, including a program in which officers can get search warrants to obtain blood samples from drivers.
The "no-refusal" program allows a police to contact a judge, in person or by phone, and obtain a search warrant if a motorist suspected of driving while intoxicated refuses to provide a breath or blood sample.
Some counties, including Wharton and Waller, obtain blood samples through warrants on all cases. Others, such as Fort Bend and Harris counties, do it during special enforcement periods.
Assistant Harris County District Attorney Warren Diepraam said a blood sample is much stronger evidence.
"Juries really just don't question blood. They expect scientific evidence," he said. "We know they trust blood more than anything else."
Although a special operation will be conducted this weekend to draw blood, police can seek a search warrant for body fluids any time a judge determines there is probable cause.
Diepraam said the first official Harris County no-refusal program was conducted on Memorial Day 2007.
Fort Bend County will begin its no-refusal operation today, said District Attorney John Healey.
Healey said a person certified to draw blood, such as a nurse or emergency medical technician, will take the samples. Judges will be available to issue warrants in person or by fax, he said.
Texas courts have ruled that the no-refusal programs are legal, he said.
Healey added that providing a blood sample can be beneficial for drivers who are not intoxicated. In at least one instance, he said, a DWI charge was dismissed because police obtained a blood sample that showed an alcohol level below the legal threshold.
"This individual might have gone through a trial, and potentially could have been convicted, but for the fact that his blood was drawn and analyzed," Healey said.
But, some defense attorneys, including Patrick McCann, former president of the Harris County Bar Association, said sanctions already are in place for people who refuse to provide blood or breath samples.
State law allows a person's driver's license to be taken away for refusing to provide a sample, he said.
And, McCann said, the no-refusal process makes judges part of the prosecution team.
"It removes any pretense of a neutral magistrate and an objective ruling," he said.
In Montgomery County, District Attorney Michael McDougal said county law officers will conduct no-refusal operations from 8 p.m. Saturday until 5 a.m. Sunday.
"Saturday night is probably the busiest night," McDougal said.
Harris County's anti-DWI operations will be centralized at the old Houston police headquarters at 61 Reisner.
Diepraam said judges, nurses and prosecutors will be stationed there and police from all Harris County agencies can bring DWI suspects to the station.
Unlike in Fort Bend County, police in Harris County will be seeking blood samples rather than breath samples.
"If they refuse to provide a sample of blood to the police, that is when we get involved," Diepraam said. "We draft a search warrant and present it to the judge and if the judge signs it, we give it to the nurse and take the suspect's blood."
Diepraam said police must have evidence of intoxication, such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, alcohol odors and lack of balance.
"There are all sorts of protection in place," he said. "They are not pulling over people and arresting them and taking blood. That couldn't be further from the truth."
On a busy holiday weekend, he said, police may bring in 15 people in one night.
Although Brazoria and Galveston counties are not conducting no-refusal operations, they will have extra enforcement on the roads over the holiday weekend.
The Impaired Driving Mobilization Program, funded with grant money from the Texas Department of Transportation, puts additional officers on the street during peak hours, said Sheriff Gean Leonard.
The Texas Department of Public Safety also is increasing enforcement efforts over the Labor Day weekend.
State officials said all available troopers will be on duty Friday, through Monday looking for drunk drivers and other violators.
"Alcohol is a big concern this time of year, because this is the last big recreational weekend of the summer," said DPS Director Col. Thomas A. Davis Jr.
During Labor Day last year, DPS troopers arrested 912 people on DWI charges and issued nearly 16,000 speeding citations and more than 3,000 seat belt and child restraint tickets.
In all, troopers wrote almost 34,000 tickets and 12,000 warnings during the Labor Day holidays last year.