TARRANT COUNTY -- Until now, police in Texas could get blood evidence from drunk driving suspects without getting a warrant. No more.
The State Court of Criminal Appeals ruled 5 to 4 that if police want to search your blood, they must get a warrant -- just like if they were searching your house.
"It's not a great day for DWI enforcement," said Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Richard Alpert on Wednesday.
He teaches DWI prosecution. Mugshots of drunk drivers who killed or maimed others stare out from his file cabinet. He says Tarrant County started requiring warrants about a year ago after a similar U.S. Supreme Court opinion.
Because of that, he says the ruling should have little impact on Tarrant County cases.
"It means that if you say no, then they'll draft a warrant , present it to a judge, and they will turn your 'no' into a 'yes,'" Alpert said.
However, he says there will be cases in North Texas and across the state where some drivers charged with DWI will escape prosecution if the case hinges on blood evidence taken without a warrant. He says it should not be a large number of cases.
Defense attorneys say blood warrants should be required because it's an invasive search.
"Why is it a good thing? Well, if you're the one driving and a police officer wants to stick you with a needle, it's good to have somebody standing between you and him that's going to make a neutral decision as to whether that's going to happen," Fort Worth lawyer Greg Westfall said.
Westfall says police now get warrants quickly any way from judges on call. Officers send a form, judges sign and fax it back.
"The whole thing takes less than half an hour," he said.
But time can be crucial. Blood alcohol content can rise or fall over a few hours.
Richard Alpert says more than half of the DWI cases filed in Tarrant County now include blood evidence. It has increased convictions while reducing the need for trials.
Bottom line, he says, police can still get your blood. It just might take a little longer.
Despite the court ruling, the no refusal holiday campaign remains in effect.