The phenomenon of police officers' drawing blood from drivers suspected of DWI/DUI is still fairly new — and controversial. In Texas, two courts have recently tackled the issue, and some expect the question will eventually make its way to the United States Supreme Court.
History of Blood Draws
In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that physicians were allowed, under the Constitution, to take a DWI suspect's blood. The Court did not, however, rule in favor of giving police officers the same power.
The practice as we know it started a few years ago in Dalworthington Gardens, Texas. Due to the high number of refused breathalyzer tests, the chief of police there instituted the practice of training officers to draw blood. While almost always drawn in cases with accidents or injuries, blood was not usually taken for general DWI stops.
Under Texas law, it is legal for a driver suspected of DWI to refuse a breath test. Refusal automatically incurs a license suspension, although this can be appealed if the case is contested.
By allowing Texas police officers to take blood from DWI suspects, the government bolstered some cases — but in the face of serious questions.
The main concern voiced by opponents to this practice was the issue of safety. Trained or not, police officers are not medical professionals, and the precinct house is a far cry from the hospital.
In 2008, a Tarrant County judge discarded blood evidence in a DWI case because it was not taken by medical personnel in a medical setting. The case went to the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth, Texas. In November of 2009, that court upheld the original ruling, but followed narrower reasoning in its decision. Instead of pointing to the setting and the officer's medical experience, the court questioned why the suspect's medical history had not been obtained prior to the blood draw.
This second ruling will most likely be appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, where the prosecutor may ask the court to produce a ruling on the broader issue of police officers' ability to draw blood.
Controversial Police Actions
The contest over a police officer's right to draw blood comes as the practice is beginning to receive more buzz among law enforcement agencies nationwide. In cities like Houston, where police officers are preparing to launch similar initiatives, the current rulings have forced officials to slow the adoption of such initiatives.
For the time being, at least, the law seems to be falling on the side of people suspected of DWI, although this is by no means a "get out of jail free" card.
Even with the current state of the law, DWI charges are extremely sensitive and must be handled correctly. If you have been accused of drunk driving, contact an experienced Texas DWI/DUI lawyer immediately.