With the New Year approaching, cities across the country are figuring out ways to deal with people who go a little... ahem... overboard in ringing in the New Year.
The Dallas Police Department will conduct a No-Refusal DWI Initiative during the New Year’s holiday. This initiative will begin 6:00 P.M., Friday December 28th 2012 and will end 6:00 A.M., Wednesday January 2nd 2013.That's right. If you're arrested under suspicion of drunk driving in Dallas this weekend, and you don't want to voluntarily incriminate yourself... well, we'll just get a search warrant to get that incriminating evidence!
During this initiative officers will secure a search warrant for a blood sample from all persons arrested for DWI who refuse to voluntarily give a breath and/or blood sample.
Now, even as a criminal defense lawyer, I understand that drunk driving is a touchy subject for a lot of people. Drunk driving can lead to accidents, some of which can be fatal. The Dallas area is currently dealing with a high-profile case involving a Dallas Cowboys player who (allegedly) killed a teammate in a drunk-driving accident.
But, doesn't anyone see a bit of a problem here?
Ever since MADD came on the scene in the early 1980s, civil liberties have been repeatedly curbed in the name of stopping drunk drivers. So-called "sobriety checkpoints" -- in which a police officers set up a roadblock and can legally stop your car for no other reason than that you were driving down a particular road at a certain hour -- came along as one preventive measure to stop drunk driving. But that's only the tip of the iceberg. Many states also attach penalties for refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test (in other words, refusing to incriminate yourself), and most states institute an automatic driver's license suspension for being arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. In Texas, it's taken a step further: registering a blood alcohol content above .08 results in a 90-day license suspension, but refusing to take a breathalyzer test? That gets your license suspended for 180 days.
And, if you refuse to take the breathalyzer test, many communities in Texas have figured out a convenient way around that. If somebody's been arrested for DWI, well, you can always go to a judge and get a search warrant for a blood sample! But that might be somewhat inconvenient for the judge, given that a lot of DWI arrests take place in the middle of the night -- and if they wait until the morning, the evidence is either gone, or far too inaccurate to be of any use. (If you're charging the guy with driving drunk at 11 PM on Friday, his BAC at 9 AM on Saturday isn't particularly meaningful.) So many police departments will simply find a magistrate who's willing to sit in the stationhouse in the wee hours of the morning to sign off on search warrants. But there's a problem here, too: oftentimes, the magistrate there simply acts as a rubber stamp, signing off on a search warrant for every person who's arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. (Note: If you're naive enough to believe that the police never arrest people for drunk driving based on scant or nonexistent evidence, well, there's no helping you.)
I'd like to point out, by the way, that all of this -- the license suspension, the demands for self-incrimination -- occur on arrest... not after being tried and convicted of an offense.
Yet, in spite of all of our "cracking down," drunk driving continues to persist as a problem. The practical causes of drunk driving aren't all that difficult to figure out. The dearth of neighborhood bars in many areas means that people who want to go to a bar must travel many miles to get there; and the lack of reliable public transportation (and often exorbitant cab fares) means that getting behind the wheel often seems like the only practical way to get home after a night of drinking. In addition, there's the problem that if you have to get to work the next morning, you can't leave your car parked outside the bar, so this can make taking a cab impractical as well.
In other words, drunk driving is a problem associated with a car-dependent culture (the effects of which, by the way, might actually make people want to drink.) Cracking down on the immorality of drunk driving through ham-handed measures is treating the symptom, not the cause. In a scant handful of American cities, going out for a drink involves a short walk to the local watering hole; but in the numerous car-dependent suburbs and exurbs of this country, going out for a drink means driving across town -- or, worse, to a neighboring town (or even county!) if your town's decided not to allow bars -- and putting the lives of yourself and others at risk.