More Texas DWI Convictions Will Be Overturned Because of Warrantless Blood Draws
Over in Tyler, somebody had a very good day recently – specifically, Samuel Gentry who saw his lawyer win a DWI appeal before the Tyler Court of Appeals and get his 3d DWI conviction overturned along with the Life Sentence he was serving.
Warrantless Blood Draw in DWI Case
What happened? The police did a blood test on Samuel Gentry back in 2012 and then arrested him for driving while intoxicated without getting a search warrant from a judge for taking his blood.
That’s called a “warrantless blood draw” and that’s the problem for the prosecution now. Of course, in pretrial, Gentry moved for the warrantless blood draw to be tossed as evidence. The judge denied his motion to suppress it.
Later, he decided to plead guilty to drunk driving and then face sentencing by a jury of his peers. Unfortunately, those jurors apparently thought that Gentry was a danger to the public and the sentence that came back from the jury room was Life. Given that he was 43 years old at the time, Samuel Gentry was facing many years behind bars after his third drunk driving arrest.
Which means, of course, that an appeal of his conviction was in order.
Now, the Tyler Court of Appeals has ruled on Mr. Gentry’s appeal of the third DWI conviction, and it’s important for drunk driving defendants all across the state.
Here’s the thing: it wasn’t Sam Gentry’s first rodeo. He had been busted for DWI before. The Texas Transportation Code Sec. 724.012(b)(3)(B) allows a warrantless blood draw when the suspected drunk driver has past DWI convictions on his record; serial offenders are deemed “to have consented” to the blood draw. So, the state argued that this was a different situation than a first offender and that taking the man’s blood without a warrant was just fine.
However, the United States Supreme Court recently decided that the warrantless blood draw as authorized by statute was unconstitutionally violating the right against unreasonable search and seizure. According to the High Court, a warrant is needed to do a blood draw in a DWI arrest. See, Missouri v. McNeely.
Gentry argued, successfully, that this statute (Texas Transportation Code Sec. 724.012(b)(3)(B)) is unconstitutional based upon the recent US Supreme Court decision in McNeely. He won.
This Will Impact Other Texas DWI Convictions
Other defendants have been arrested and convicted for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) based upon a warrantless blood draw. Sam Gentry’s victory means that they, too, may find those convictions overturned as unconstitutional based upon McNeely.
How many people are in that position — incarcerated for DWI based upon a warrantless blood draw? Good question.
The importance of Gentry’s case lies in the language of the McNeely opinion, which left open some question about how broadly its ruling of warrantless blood draws being unconstitutional really is.
From Gentry, we should see DWI arrests being more carefully handled by both police and prosecutors insofar as collecting evidence of possible intoxication. Especially in cases like Sam Gentry’s situation, where he refused to submit to other sobriety tests at the scene so the warrantless blood draw was the cornerstone of the state’s case.
His appeal goes back for retrial, but what evidence will there be for the prosecutor to proceed upon here?
Aviles Case: U.S. Supreme Court Reverses CCA
That this is a statewide concern for prosecutors — the warrantless blood draw being unconstitutional — seems to be pretty clear. Consider the recent, similarly-situated case down in San Antonio where Antonio Aviles appealed his warrantless blood draw all the way from the San Antonio Court of Appeals to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to the United States Supreme Court.
The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the CCA summarily — no opinion was written — pointing to McNeely. The San Antonio Court of Appeals then reconsidered its ruling in Aviles (which had been okayed by the CCA) and changed its mind on the constitutionality of the warrantless blood draw. See, Gentry.
For details on the McNeely decision itself, read our prior post: “Warrantless DWI Blood Tests Violate the United States Constitution Rules U.S. Supreme Court in Today’s Opinion, Missouri v. McNeely: Police Need a Warrant Before DWI Blood Test.”
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