On Friday, Governor Rick Perry signed HB 1199 into law. As of September 1, 2011, it will be a Class A misdemeanor if a motorist is arrested for driving while intoxicated and a breath or blood test shows an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or higher.
The new law does not provide how long after the stop the breath or blood specimen must be tested or obtained. The new law does not take into account whether the motorist is in the absorption or elimination phase at the time of the test. The new law does not explain why an arbitrary alcohol level was selected as the line of demarcation between Class A and Class B misdemeanor DWI.
Prior to the passage of HB 1199, the seriousness of a drunk driving charge depended upon whether the defendant had a prior conviction for DWI or whether anyone had been seriously injured or killed as a result of an accident with the defendant. Now we're going to determine the seriousness of the charge based on a chemical test alone. This is a very bad precedent.
This new law will put more pressure on judges to sign off on faulty blood warrants when motorists exercise their right to refuse to submit a breath sample. This new law will put more pressure on local authorities to make "No Refusal" Weekends the rule rather than the exception.
Maybe the real purpose is to scare motorists away from challenging their cases before a jury. Cases with high test scores and good videos are prime candidates for trial -- asking the jury whether they are more inclined to believe what they see (the video) or what they hear (the breath test result). Come September, these motorists will be confronted with the choice of going to trial on a Class A misdemeanor or taking the state's offer of a Class B on cases with high test scores.
That's the ticket for the State of Texas - got questions with the pseudo-science behind the breath test machine? Just legislate the questions away by waving a larger stick.