St. Charles County police will go for blood tests on suspected drunken drivers
By Joel Currier04/15/2009
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
St. Charles — Police in St. Charles County are drawing a new weapon in their fight to stop drunk drivers — blood testing.
On Thursday night, about two dozen officers from several area police departments are holding what they're calling a "no refusal" checkpoint to catch impaired drivers.
From 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., police will stop all drivers at a busy intersection near Interstate 70, the city's Main Street corridor and the Ameristar Casino. If those arrested on suspicion of driving drunk refuse an officer's request for a breath test, police plan to get on-the-spot court orders for blood tests from a nearby on-call prosecutor and circuit judge.
Though the approach has already been tested in at least three other states, police say this style of checkpoint combining the "no refusal" element may be the first of its kind in Missouri. Police and advocates for tougher enforcement hope the effort adds muscle to a criminal justice system that often fails to keep drunk drivers off the roads.
"Having the blood or breath result is an essential part of DWI enforcement," said St. Charles County sheriff's Deputy Travis Jones, who is organizing the checkpoint. "We just want to go through a night with no fatalities or serious wrecks."
Over the past two months, at least 10 people have been killed in the St. Louis area by suspected drunk drivers, some of whom had prior DWI convictions.
Experts say it's legal to require blood tests from drivers arrested for DWI. Most states, including Missouri and Illinois, have implied consent laws that mandate breath, blood, saliva or urine samples if asked by a police officer.
Once arrested, drivers who refuse the tests risk losing their licenses for up to a year.
DWI checkpoints with mandatory blood tests raise civil liberties concerns, said Tony Rothert, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri.
"That anyone who happens to be driving through St. Charles could be stopped and have their blood forcibly removed from them does seem to me like the government is overreaching," he said.
Travis Noble, a Clayton DWI lawyer, questioned whether the practice provides judges enough information to reasonably issue police warrants for blood tests.
"I think a judge would need to be very cautious," Noble said.
Police in more rural areas, such as Franklin, Lincoln and Warren counties, regularly seek warrants for blood tests in DWI cases even if it means waking prosecutors and judges late at night. But in busier, more populated areas, police typically request warrants for blood only in the most serious cases.
"It's been a very effective tool for prosecuting DWI," Warren County Prosecutor Mike Wright said.
And the tactic appears to be catching on locally, with a checkpoint similar to the one in St. Charles planned this weekend in Franklin County, and two more in St. Charles County next month.
"You can have blood drawn even if you don't want your blood drawn." said Peter Joy, a law professor at Washington University.