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Texas: DWI blood tests draw interest

By O.K. Carter   
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Predictions that this city's pioneering strategy of taking blood samples from drunken-driving suspects would lead to a wave of litigation have so far proved inaccurate.

The Dalworthington Gardens Police Department is the only law enforcement agency in Texas that routinely takes blood samples at DWI stops and the only department with a large number of officers certified to draw blood.

DWG is a small city of 2,300 surrounded by Arlington and Pantego, so the sample of DWI cases thus far -- about 30 -- is small, averaging four or five a month. But to Police Chief Bill Waybourn, the results have been encouraging. "So far we have a 100 percent conviction rate," Waybourn said.

It works like this. Once a potential DWI is pulled over, the driver is asked to submit to having blood drawn for alcohol level testing. About half the drivers decline, Waybourn said. In those cases, blood cannot be drawn until a court-ordered search warrant is issued by a court of record, such as Dalworthington Gardens Municipal Court.

"From the time we stop them until we obtain a warrant typically runs two to 2 1/2 hours," the police chief said. "We've not had to forcibly take any blood. Once we present them with a warrant in which the judge has ordered us to take a sample of blood, they thus far have all said OK."

DWI cases are heard in the county court. Only six cases have concluded, and all six defendants pleaded guilty or no contest, Waybourn said, adding that if a blood test determined that intoxication was not involved, the case would be swiftly dropped.

"We haven't had to spend a single minute tying officers up in court with the cases," Waybourn said.

Though the decision to use the virtually uncontestable blood test did not come without criticism -- some fairly intense -- Waybourn strongly defends the policy.

"I don't know how it feels to be a pioneer, but I do think we're committed to doing what is right, particularly on the DWI issue," he said. "I think we took this particular offense too lightly for years and years and we're just killing people left and right. We're killing more people with DWIs in this country than bullets and bombs are in Iraq."

Though Dalworthington Gardens continues to be the only Texas city using the blood test, it may not be for long. Sheriff's departments in Wise, Williamson and Wilson counties are studying the city's strategy and outcomes, as is the Weatherford Police Department.

"None have instituted it so far as I know," Waybourn said.

"But I predict that it's coming."

 Fort Worth Star Telegram (http://www.star-telegram.com/)

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