'No Refusal' Weekend Program To Exist Year-Round

Drivers Who Refuse Breath Tests Will Have Blood Drawn

SAN ANTONIO - Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed announced plans this week to extend "No Refusal" weekends to every weekend in 2011 as opposed to certain holiday weekends, like New Year's and the Fourth of July.

The move to extend the program drew positive words from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

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"We're pretty excited about that," said Daniel Garza, youth program specialist with MADD. "It was a great pleasure to hear that this morning that law enforcement is going to get another good tool to be able to combat drunk driving here in San Antonio."

With an estimated 6,000 drunken driving arrests in Bexar county for 2010, MADD feels the program will cut down on arrests in 2011.

"When they're announced and everyone knows that they're coming, they serve as a deterrent," Garza said. "It would be a great pleasure to see it become 365 days."

But criminal lawyers who handle DWI cases see it differently.

"I guess the message they're sending is, 'Get drunk during the week,'" said Jamie Balagia, a lawyer who goes by "DWI Dude".

"They're saying, 'You give us a breath specimen or you give us a blood specimen or we're going to take it anyway,'" George Scharmen, a criminal defense lawyer.

Scharmen said with the district attorney's refusal to take plea bargains in DWI cases, the new policy won't do anything but stretch out cases. He said he has some cases that have waited five years to get to court.

"You have motions to suppress breath and blood draws on the basis of a bad search warrant, on the basis of involuntariness," Scharmen said.

"If they don't have enough evidence against you to make a solid case, how is what little they have enough for a judge to sign a warrant?" added Balagia.

Reed's office released statistics from nine No Refusal weekends between May 2008 and the Fourth of July weekend in 2010. The stats showed that 312 blood tests were taken with an average blood alcohol level of 0.159, nearly twice the legal limit. Twenty-nine of the tests were below the legal limit.

"If you have a special program, there should be a goal and a goal that you can actually show statistically that there's benefit," Balagia said. "Susan Reed can't do that."

"The implication is that on the No Refusal weekend they have a tendency to get more convictions or they have a tendency to get better evidence," Scharmen said.


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