by Ray Downs
City of St. Louis cops and prosecutors got tired of people exercising their Fourth Amendment right during DWI arrests by refusing to take Breathalyzer tests without a warrant, so they have created a "No Refusal Zone" where the warrants for blood are obtained almost automatically.
The new measures have been enacted because "too many drunken drivers have learned to game the legal system by refusing to cooperate with field-sobriety tests," according to a press release from the Circuit Attorney's Office.
The statement added that the refusal rate is more than 50 percent in the city.
Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce tells Daily RFT that the process is pretty much just like it was before: Once a driver is suspected of being drunk, a cop will collect some facts such as weaving, reeking of alcohol or passing out at a red light, he or she will be arrested for a DWI.
The only difference is that if the driver refuses to take a Breathalyzer test, the warrant process to draw blood will be expedited.
"If there's probable cause to arrest you for a DWI, that's the amount of probable cause for a Breathalyzer, and that's the amount of probable cause required for a search warrant," Joyce says.
She adds: "What the search warrant procedure does is it gets a judge right then and there to see if they agree with the police officer, and it gets a prosecutor right then and there to see if they agree with the police officer."
Getting quicker and easier access to blood tests will undoubtedly make it easier to prosecute accused drunk drivers. In addition, prosecutors are allowed to bring up the fact that the accused refused to voluntarily take a Breathalyzer test.
"No Refusal" policies are not rare. Many counties across the country enact this strategy around popular drunk-driving times of the year such as Labor Day, Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve. But Daily RFT has not found another major American city where "No Refusal" is a permanent policy. We'll update if we do.
People online have been critical of the approach, calling it a violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.Click on the next page to read some angry tweets about the No Refusal Zone...
#NoRefusalZone is a blatant violation of 4th Amendment rights. St. Louis voters, prepare to start impeaching judges.— John Dorn (@j_dorn) December 30, 2013
And Joyce responded to critics on Twitter:
The "No Refusal" measure comes just a few months after a Supreme Court ruling in favor of a Cape Girardeau man who refused a Breathalyzer test and was forced to take a blood test without a warrant. The Supreme Court ruled that the blood test without a warrant was unconstitutional.
Expedited warrants will get around that problem, but opponents such as anti-red-light camera attorney Mike Carter still say it's not right.
"I applaud Prosecutor Joyce for seeking a proper warrant, but to say that EVERY REFUSAL will automatically trigger a warrant request would seem to indicate that her office feels that without a breath result or any field sobriety tests, whatsoever, that they should automatically be able to stick a needle in someone's body. That's a bit disturbing to me," Carter says in a statement.
Whichever side one is one regarding the "No Refusal Zone," there is no debate about the dangers of drunk driving. And New Year's is particularly dangerous.
This map from IDV Solutions shows how often alcohol was involved in fatal crashes in the St. Louis area, one of the worst in the country for drunk-driving accidents.
Remember -- those are all fatalities. Put some cab numbers in your cell phone so you can get shit-faced tonight and not die.
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E-mail him at Ray.Downs@RiverfrontTimes.com.