Warrants before blood

In Texas, a new law allows police to draw blood without warrant.

by The Daily Texan

In a city like Austin âÄî where football games, greek life and the downtown scene are inseparably tied to drunken revelry âÄî driving while intoxicated is not an uncommon occurrence. Police have tried to combat it by implementing a âÄúno refusalâÄù policy during times when drunk driving is expected to increase. During âÄúno refusal,âÄù DWI suspects who refuse a breathalyzer test can instead be forced to take a blood test as long as police have a warrant. But a new law that went into effect last week mutates the policy into a civil-liberties disaster. It allows police to draw blood with no warrant if the suspect is allegedly drunk driving, refuses a breath test, has a history of offenses or if a serious injury or child passenger is involved. Warrantless and mandatory blood tests create a dangerous precedent that expands police power. Instead of fixing the cumbersome process by which police obtain warrants, lawmakers decided to throw out the process altogether and eschew an important protection against police abuse. This law grants police absolute discretion to make decisions reserved for judges, whose role is to prevent police from capriciously exercising power. While curbing drunken driving is a worthy goal, the new law is constitutionally dubious. Texas civil rights lawyers are expected to argue that it violates the Fifth AmendmentâÄôs protection against self-incrimination, as well as the Fourth AmendmentâÄôs protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Lawmakers should not circumvent the protection of warrants, even if itâÄôs simpler than reorganizing the system within which warrants are granted. Instead of diverting resources to train police phlebotomists, officials should devote resources to rework the warrant system. This would allow police to secure warrants in a timely manner, while still protecting the rights of motorists. This column was originally published in the Daily Texan at the University of Texas. Please send comments to [email protected]