The NCAA Final Four has matured into one of America’s greatest sporting events. Since alcohol was sold at the venues, drunken driving was a particular concern of the Houston Police Department during this time. Indeed, DWI patrols were dramatically stepped up during the Final Four. A great number of people were arrested for DWI, many of whom were from out of state.
Although the Final Four triggered stepped-up DWI patrols in Houston, there were no sobriety checkpoints. DWI patrols allow an officer to check a driver’s sobriety only if there is a particular reason to pull the driver over (weaving between lanes or another violation of traffic laws, for example). Sobriety checkpoints are police roadblocks at which the police check every driver for intoxication, or decide which drivers to check using a neutral standard such as every third driver. No suspicious behavior is required to check the driver’s sobriety. Sobriety checkpoints are illegal in 12 U.S. states, including Texas.
The Texas prohibition against sobriety checkpoints is unique, because while the other 11 states base their prohibitions on state law or the state constitution, the Texas prohibition is based on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal’s local interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Sobriety checkpoints are prohibited because Texas views them as a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against illegal search and seizure.
Sobriety checkpoints would be legal in Texas if the Texas Legislature passed statutes authorizing them and formulating neutral standards for their implementation. So far, however, the Texas Legislature has failed to act.
A driver suspected of DUI normally has the right to refuse to take a breath, blood or urine test to determine whether or not he is intoxicated. If he refuses, the police officer cannot test him without obtaining a search warrant (to ”search” his bloodstream for intoxicants). A search warrant must be issued by a judge and requires evidence amounting to “probable cause” to suspect the presence of intoxicants in the driver’s bloodstream.
Since alcohol dissipates rapidly in the bloodstream, and since obtaining a search warrant is normally a time-consuming process, when a driver refuses a sobriety test, the officer normally arrests him but does not perform the test, and the prosecution attempts to win a conviction without submitting test results into evidence. In a “No Refusal” DWI patrol, by contrast, the officer can phone in a request for a search warrant during the traffic stop, obtain the warrant from the judge over the phone, and force the suspect to submit to a blood test. “No Refusal” DWI patrols were common in Houston during the Final Four.
If a driver refuses to consent to sobriety testing, his driver’s license will be suspended for between 180 days and two years even if he is eventually acquitted of DWI. He will likely be charged with DWI as well, and a conviction is particularly likely if a “No Refusal” blood test reveals the presence of an illegal concentration of alcohol or another intoxicant in his bloodstream.
Mario Madrid is a top Houston DWI defense lawyer with around two decades of experience. He is a board-certified specialist in Texas criminal law. If you are facing a DWI charge in Houston, call Madrid Law, PLLC at 713-877-9400 for a free initial evaluation of your case.
Categories: NCAA Tournament