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By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
He adds up all this to decide whether to make an arrest. Watkins says that on some nights, although he'll stop five people, he'll arrest only one or two.
Of course, if a driver pisses herself on the street, that's pretty much a lock arrest-wise.
The woman arrested on Elm Street is dragging her feet across the police parking lot to the basement entrance of Lew Sterrett jail. "This is so embarrassing," she mumbles.
Once inside, she stays for a while inside the restroom, which is a glass room visible to those in the hall.
Watkins waits for her with his back to the room. "If you were at a .09," he says, "you would say, 'I can't use that bathroom because people are going to see me!'"
A stream of people flowing into the jail offers a glimpse of how big the DWI problem is.
A handcuffed man followed by another officer comes through the mechanized door. His shoulders are pulled back tight. He also needs to use the restroom and is spinning in circles, holding it.
The door opens again. Another young woman in handcuffs comes through, followed by another officer. She shuffles her feet. Blood is splattered across her jeans. "What happened here?" Watkins asks. "DWI accident," the other officer replies.
"The regular patrol officers, they shy away from DWI arrests...because of some good lawyers out there, yes, like David Burrows. If you don't know your material, they will nail you to the cross," Watkins says.
But all his preparation can fall flat in the face of a determined assault from lawyers like Burrows and his experts. That's why blood would be such a game changer. A breath test may be iffy, and even a hardcore drunk may pass a field sobriety test. But a blood test that shows a high level of alcohol is tough to beat. That's why Mothers Against Drunk Driving is baying for blood.
MADD firmly believes that punishment works as a deterrent. So, when 57 percent of the people who go to court for first-offense DWI are acquitted, that means a growing number of Dallas drivers haven't learned their lesson. With blood in play, once the public gets word that it is nearly impossible to get out of a DWI arrest, people will think twice before drinking and driving, says Mary Kardell, executive director of the North Texas MADD chapter. The average defendant drinks and drives 70 times before they're caught, Kardell contends. "If they are dumb enough to drink and drive and get themselves pulled over, then they get what they deserve."
Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins created the blood legislation awaiting action in Austin, and it tops his nine-point legislative agenda.
Misdemeanor court Judge Lennox Bower was the first judge to sign a blood warrant during Dallas' first no-refusal weekend in 2008. Bower had reservations about forcing people to give up blood, but he knew the practice was sweeping the state and figured he might as well get involved early and have some input. For one, he insisted that blood draws take place at the jail and aren't performed by police.
Then he started to look at the numbers. After that first no-refusal weekend, of the 18 people who refused to give a sample of their breath, blood work revealed that all but one were well above the legal limit for intoxication. The average was 0.15. The one exception was Andrea, who hired Burrows to defend her. Her results came back at 0.05, and prosecutors dismissed her case.
Then Bower looked at his own caseload and noted that in a growing number of DWIs, prosecutors had no evidence because the defendant had refused to take any tests.
"When I saw that, and then saw what the juries are doing—which is acquitting total refusal cases—I realized that this is not only inevitable, but necessary," Bower says. After he heard that some drivers had to be physically restrained, he grew less comfortable with the practice. "There are some parts of this I am still conflicted on," Bower says. "I don't like to literally force them if they are refusing, but once I started seeing the numbers, it made it easier to accept."
Right now lawyers are debating whether no-refusal programs are constitutional. Texas law states that if a driver refuses to give a sample, "none shall be taken," but mandatory blood-draws backed by search warrants have been upheld by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
For those arrested during St. Patrick's Day weekend, the consequences will be costly, win or lose. Burrows bases his fees, anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000, on how long he thinks a trial will last. A convicted driver pays the court $1,000, the probation office $62 per month for two years and the state $1,089 for three years. Plus, the conviction goes on your record.
Burrows knows all too well the price of a guilty verdict. In 1996, he was convicted of failure to file hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes and ordered to serve a two-year sentence. But he never lost his law license, just any semblance of his previous law practice. Burrows came from a modest upbringing; his father was a truck driver, and his older brothers were star athletes, so he turned to academics at a young age to feed his intensely competitive spirit. After he served his sentence, he quickly dedicated himself again to winning in law.