Saturday, December 18, 2010

Is proposal to end ALR system in the works?

Could the Administrative License Revocation system in Texas be coming to an end?

A little bird told me that State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Houston) is planning on introducing legislation this coming session to do away with the ALR system. According to my sources, under Sen. Patrick's proposal, a license suspension would be imposed upon the finding of probable cause by a magistrate.

Currently a motorist accused of a first driving while intoxicated faces a 90-day suspension for failing a breath test and a 180-day suspension for refusing to blow in the state's breath test machine. At the ALR hearing, the DPS must show that the officer either had reasonable suspicion to believe the motorist had committed an offense or probable cause to arrest.

The reasoning behind Sen. Patrick's proposal is that once a magistrate determines probable cause to arrest existed, there is no need for the state to spend any more money trying to prove it up at a ALR hearing. Nevermind the fact that at an ALR hearing the DPS must at least prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence -- at a probable cause hearing a judge must only find that probable cause to arrest exists.

The state would benefit in a couple of other ways, as well. Since the suspension would be imposed automatically upon a finding of probable cause, more motorists would have to pony up $125 reinstatement fees. Axing the program would also eliminate the ability of defense attorneys to depose the officers under oath before prosecutors get hold of them.

A bigger issue, however, is the imposition of criminal sanctions before the state has proven each and every element of its case beyond all reasonable doubt. Supporters can claim all they want that a license suspension is an administrative action separate and apart from the DWI case, but by using a magistrate's probable cause finding as the trigger -- the proposal would tie the two together at the hip. Such a move would violate the separation of powers doctrine and would serve to reduce the state's burden of proof.

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