Another appeal eyes limits on DWI testing

Sunday, May 4, 2003

Another critical legal issue is being raised as the result of a judge's ruling in Cape Girardeau County. This time the rights of motorists suspected of driving while intoxicated are at stake.

A Jackson woman who was stopped by police refused to take a Breathalyzer test. She was arrested. Later, after a warrant was obtained, a blood sample was taken to determine her blood-alcohol content. Circuit Judge Michael Bullerdieck ruled that a state statute prohibits any further BAC tests after a motorist refuses the Breathalyzer test. Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle argues in his appeal to the Missouri Court of Appeal, Eastern District that the statute doesn't bar tests obtained through a warrant.

By refusing a Breathalyzer test in Missouri, motorists must automatically forfeit their driver's licenses. Supporters of the judge's ruling in this case argue that losing a driver's license is sufficient punishment in such cases. But those who disagree with the ruling say losing a license only penalizes a motorist for refusing a test and fails to adequately punish drivers for operating a vehicle while drunk and imperiling their lives and the lives of other motorists -- or the lives of passengers.

While there is room to argue the finer points of the ruling in this case, there also is the question of the ambiguity of the statute. The judge says it was legislators' intent to limit warrants for blood tests after a motorist refuses a Breathalyzer. If the law needs to be plainer, that would be a task for the Missouri Legislature.

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