City Faces Massive Backlog of Untested Blood Samples, Potentially Delaying DWI Prosecutions

Rob Pongsajapan [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)], via FlickrA Texas city is facing a major backlog of blood samples collected in driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases. San Antonio subjects DWI suspects to mandatory blood draws if they refuse to submit a breath sample. Police use breath or blood samples to determine blood alcohol content (BAC). A BAC level of 0.08 percent or higher is legally presumed to be evidence of intoxication, although BAC evidence is not always essential to a prosecutor’s case. The backlog does not appear to be causing a delay in pending DWI cases, at least according to local prosecutors. The U.S. Constitution, however, guarantees defendants a right to a speedy trial, so backlogs in the processing of evidence are always cause for concern.

Bexar County, Texas, whose jurisdiction includes San Antonio, had a contract with a private laboratory to test blood samples in DWI cases. The District Attorney (DA) canceled the contract shortly after taking office in early 2015. A series of documentation errors by the laboratory called hundreds of DWI cases into question. This included the alleged mislabeling of up to 350 blood samples, first discovered in 2014. The county now faces a backlog of over 1,000 samples, with no efficient means of testing them.

New Jersey DWI law, we should note, differs from Texas law with regard to blood draws. Multiple Texas cities have enacted “no refusal” policies that mandate blood draws from all DWI suspects who refuse a breath test. San Antonio expanded this policy from weekend traffic stops to all traffic stops in 2011. New Jersey drivers are subject to the implied consent statute for breath testing, meaning that anyone driving on New Jersey roads has, solely by virtue of driving, consented to providing a breath sample to a police officer who suspects DWI. This statute does not apply to blood samples. Police may still compel a person in New Jersey to submit a blood sample without a warrant, however, in certain circumstances.

The U.S. Supreme Court first ruled on warrantless, forced blood draws in Schmerber v. California in 1966, holding that police do not need a warrant for a blood draw if they have reasonable suspicion of DWI, the suspect is subject to a lawful arrest, and the blood draw is done in a “medically acceptable manner.” The court narrowed this holding somewhat in 2013 in Missouri v. McNeely, finding that the dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream, by itself, does not justify a forced blood draw prior to obtaining a warrant. The New Jersey Supreme Court, in State v. Adkins, applied this ruling retroactively to all cases pending at the time McNeely was decided.

The Bexar County DA claims that it has proceeded with new and pending DWI cases without the use of blood sample evidence, even though police continue to collect them and the backlog keeps growing. They are using other evidence instead, like officer testimony and field sobriety test results. The situation still raises several troubling questions, including why police need to continue collecting blood samples if the county does not need them, and whether the backlog is causing any delays that deprive defendants of their right to a speedy trial.

A DWI arrest in New Jersey can have a profound impact on your life, even if you are never convicted of an offense. You need a knowledgeable and experienced DWI attorney, who can protect your rights and plan a compelling defense for your case. At Levow DWI Law, we have dedicated 100% of our law practice to DWI defense. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (877) 975-3399.

More Blog Posts:

Blood Testing in New Jersey DWI Cases, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, September 24, 2015

New Jersey Supreme Court Retroactively Applies 2013 U.S. Supreme Court Ruling on Forced Blood Draws in DWI Cases, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, August 12, 2015

Hundreds of DWI Cases in Question After Laboratory Reports Errors Involving Blood Samples, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, June 20, 2014

Photo credit: Rob Pongsajapan [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr.