POSTED: Monday, October 25, 2010 - 6:21pm
UPDATED: Monday, October 25, 2010 - 8:48pm
Here in Texas, anyone who's suspected of driving drunk and refuses to give a breath sample loses their license for 6 months. Because it's harder to prosecute without a breath sample, some want that penalty to be more severe.
"The refusal rate in the state is about 50%," said District Attorney Jaime Esparza.
50% of the people who are suspected of driving drunk prefer to fork over their license for 6 months, rather than breath into a machine.
Since that hinders their investigation, Esparza would like to see harsher penalties for people who refuse to submit to the test.
"Any effort to try to increase the amount of drivers who will give us their breath or their blood in the investigation I'm for," Esparza said.
With almost 2,500 DWI arrests this year, the El Paso Police Department is on board, too. They now use a randomized blood draw operation. People who refuse to give a breath sample must instead have their blood drawn after a so-called blood search warrant is signed by a judge.
"I think it is overzealous law enforcement," said defense attorney Michael Blake, who specializes in DWI cases. He questions not only the accuracy of the field sobriety test, but also the safety of the randomized blood draw.
"Why would they continue to participate in the collection of evidence against themselves?" he asked.
So far the blood test has proven to be a deterrent. Last month, all of the people arrested during the operation chose to give a breath sample rather than have blood drawn.
"Driving is a privilege, it is not a right," said El Paso Police spokesman Mike Baranyay. "So if the state wanted to, it could make harsher penalties."
In the most recent legislative session, a bill was introduced that would mandate ignition interlocks for a first offense. And a bill was introduced that would make driving with a .16 blood alcohol level a more severe crime. Neither passed, but are expected to be brought back to the table.