Monday, January 27, 2014

Passing along the costs of blood testing

As if the costs associated with a DWI arrest aren't high enough, prosecutors with the Harris County District Attorney's Office are working on a plan to charge defendants with the cost of drawing, storing and analyzing their blood samples. As the number of blood tests in DWI cases has skyrocketed in the past few years, area crime labs are being overwhelmed with the kits.

Prosecutors seem to think that the answer to short-handed labs is to transfer the cost of hiring and training new analysts to the motorists accused of driving while intoxicated. The Code of Criminal Procedure would seem to allow the government to do so.

But why are there so many blood tests?

If you guessed "No Refusal Weekends" you are correct.

In an ongoing attempt to coerce motorists into agreeing to give up evidence to help the government's case, local prosecutors, law enforcement agencies and compliant judges have all teamed up to force motorists to submit to breath or blood tests. The reason why is quite obvious - too many motorists were challenging their arrests in court and (in the eyes of prosecutors and judges) too many juries were giving them the benefit of the doubt at trial.

The government, never shy about violating the rights of the accused when it serves their purpose, decided that the best way to obtain convictions was to pressure drivers into submitting to breath tests - even though it isn't against the law to decline the invitation to give the state more evidence. Nevermind the fact that prosecutors have been obtaining convictions in DWI cases for years without the benefit of breath tests or even NHTSA's roadside exercises on film.

Just like the casinos, prosecutors and law enforcement decided to improve the house's odds in a DWI prosecution. The courts played along by allowing officers to fax affidavits to judges and to allow officers to be sworn over the telephone.

Now we have a backlog of blood samples from simple Class B misdemeanors (one step removed from a traffic ticket) because the government decided it needed more evidence to rig the game. The motorist stopped for speeding or not signalling a lane change after leaving a restaurant or bar certainly didn't decide to contribute to the backlog. The decision was made by the officers involved in the stop, local prosecutors and judges who want to appear tough on crime.

No one forced prosecutors and local law enforcement agencies to have nurses on duty to draw blood. No one forced them to provide equipment to judges so they could make their "reasoned legal decisions" from the comfort of their own homes.

If the cost of testing all the blood that's drawn in DWI cases is prohibitive then maybe the government should think twice about pursuing these policies. Passing along the cost doesn't solve the problem. Taxing the citizen accused because prosecutors don't want to have to try breath test refusal cases isn't equitable. The cost should be borne by the parties who insist on coercing motorists to consent to chemical tests.

Blood tests aren't necessary in most DWI cases. The facts regarding the traffic stop, the officers observations at the scene and the motorist's performance on roadside exercises is enough for most juries to decide whether or not the state proved up its case. If prosecutors don't like losing DWI trials then perhaps that might want consider just what the presumption of innocence means. They might also want to consider why our nation's founders made the burden of proof for arresting someone a whole lot less than for convicting that same person.

H/T Grits for Breakfast

No comments: