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Can I Be Convicted of Drunk Driving Even Without a Blood Test?

Although DWI cases are frequently associated with blood-alcohol and field sobriety tests, neither of these things are absolutely necessary before a police officer can arrest you on suspicion of drunk driving. The officer only needs “probable cause” to arrest. And in many cases, such cause may be the result of the officer’s observations of a DWI suspect, even before any formal testing takes place.

Court Rules Warrantless Blood Search a “Harmless Error,” Affirms Felony DWI Conviction

Consider this recent DWI case from Waco. A local sheriff’s deputy observed the defendant’s pickup truck driving erratically on the highway. Specifically, the deputy said the truck “almost struck an oncoming SUV,” and based on this assumed the driver was “intoxicated or under the influence of something.” The deputy called his dispatcher for backup.

In the meantime the deputy, who was in a personal vehicle, continued to follow the defendant’s movements. The deputy said the truck “would speed up, slow down, go to the right almost in the ditch, back across to the southbound lane, speed up, slow down,” and so forth. The requested backup arrived shortly thereafter, and another officer stopped the defendant.

The officer testified in court that “there was a strong odor of some sort of alcoholic beverage coming from the vehicle and that [the defendant] had bloodshot eyes.” The officer also noticed the defendant’s clothes were “kind of messed up” and that he “kind of stumbled” when walking around outside of the truck. The officer then administered a field sobriety test, which the defendant failed. Based on this–and the deputy’s earlier reports of erratic driving–the officer decided to arrest the defendant.

Once in custody, the defendant refused to submit to a blood-alcohol test. The officer then drew a blood sample anyways without first obtaining a warrant. This evidence was subsequently introduced at the defendant’s trial.

A jury convicted the defendant, who had two prior drunk driving convictions, of felony DWI. Although the jury assessed a 10-year prison term, it recommended a suspended sentence with community supervision (probation). The judge agreed, suspending all but 180 days of the jail sentence.

On appeal, the defendant argued the trial judge erred in not suppressing the results of the warrantless blood test. The Texas 10th District Court of Appeals held that even if the blood test did violate the defendant’s constitutional rights, it was a “harmless error” that did not prejudice the jury’s verdict. “Although the blood evidence was an integral part of the trial,” the Court observed, “having been introduced by an expert witness and argued at closing, it was not the only evidence that supported [the defendant’s] conviction.” Indeed, the testimony of the two police officers was more than enough to establish the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” And given the jury did not throw the book at the defendant–instead recommending probation–the appeals court said the admission of the blood evidence was not prejudicial.

Get Help From a Galveston DWI Lawyer Today

In a drunk driving case, every detail matters. Everything a police officer sees–and anything you tell them–may serve as evidence against you in court. This is why you need to contact a qualified Houston DWI defense attorney if you have been arrested and charged with any kind of drunk driving offense. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 280-0100 in League City if you need to speak with a lawyer right away.