Monday, March 3, 2014

Let's play cowboys and vampires

March is a busy time in the Houston area. First there's the Livestock Show and Rodeo that opened this past weekend with the World Championship BBQ Cookoff followed by three weeks of shows, music and carnival rides. There's also Mardi Gras down on the island and St. Patrick's Day (when we reduce all of Irish culture to a glass of green beer). Finally it's Spring Break time and folks will be flocking to the beach.

It's also time, once again, for the Harris County District Attorney's Office, local law enforcement and the black-robed members of the DA's Office to conspire to make a mockery of the Fourth Amendment with a No Refusal Month.

For those not familiar with this little game, the DA's Office recruits judges to volunteer to sign search warrants authorizing forcible blood draws for people arrested for DWI who decide not to give a breath or blood sample voluntarily. Note that I didn't say they would review the warrants. Nope. That's not part of the game.

If these judges actually performed their duty the whole No Refusal program would find itself on the ash heap of history. The only way to ensure that blood is drawn is for the judges to be compliant and ignore the shortcomings of the cookie cutter search warrant affidavits that are faxed to them.

Few of the affidavits contain anything more than boilerplate language and conclusory statements that are supposed to pass as articulable facts. But have no fear, there's no random assignment of judges during the No Refusal period, the judges that sign the warrants volunteered to be part of the program. They are advertised as being part of the team.

The DA's Office is quite clear about the purpose of No Refusal - they want to obtain as much evidence as they can to force a defendant to wave the white flag and plead guilty. But what is the judge's role in this farce?

The judge should have no interest in whether a motorist submits to a breath or blood test. Whether there is a test or not if none of the judge's concern. The judge is just supposed to be a neutral and detached arbiter - not a participant in the prosecution.

And finally, just to clear up any confusion that may exist out there, in order for a breath or blood test result to be admissible in court, the suspect must have been under arrest before the officer requested the sample. In other words, the breath or blood test has nothing to do with an officer's decision to arrest a motorist for driving while intoxicated - the officer has already made up his mind before he even asks the motorist to blow.

Just be careful out there.

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