Police draw first blood over holiday

Warrants will force suspected drunk drivers who refuse breathalyzer to take blood test

June 04, 2010 at 9:05 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

The St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office will now seek search warrants to draw blood from arrested suspects who refuse to take breath tests in an attempt to strengthen drunk driving cases in court.

“This should result in a much higher conviction rate for those who choose to drink and drive,” Sheriff Greg Champagne said. “We are ramping up our efforts to take drunk and drugged drivers off of our highways through the use of these enforcement techniques.”

Champagne included drugged drivers because a certified drug recognition expert will also be summoned to evaluate arrestees for the use of narcotics. This will help the Sheriff’s Office convict those who appear to be impaired on substances other than alcohol.

The Sheriff’s Office began this new policy during Memorial Day weekend and drew blood from one suspected intoxicated driver over the holiday, according to spokesman Capt. Pat Yoes. They join several other parishes, including Jefferson, who have already initiated the policy.

In 2007, Louisiana’s refusal rate for the breath alcohol test was 39 percent, ranking the state the fourth worst in the nation, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As a result, the state increased the period of time in which a suspected drunk driver’s license is suspended from six months to one year.

“However, that does not seem to be enough to deter arrestees from refusing the breath test in hopes of beating a DWI charge,” Champagne said. “Under this new policy, refusing the breath test won’t diminish the chances of a conviction. Blood can be drawn and analyzed regardless of a suspect’s refusal to take the breath test.

“We hope by enforcing this policy it will reduce the number of serious injuries and deaths due to impaired driving.”

Because of the success the policy has had in other states, the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission is pushing for all parishes to adopt blood draws.

Arizona was the first state to initiate the program in 1995. At the time, the state had a breath test refusal rate of 17 percent. In 2007, that rate had dropped to 8.56 percent. Texas, who initiated the program in 2003 when the breath test refusal rate was 50 percent, has now seen that number drop to 20 percent.

The blood program also touts a 98 percent conviction rate.

View other articles written Jonathan Menard

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