Drivers Could Pay Own DWI Tests in Texas County

January 15, 2014

People convicted of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in Harris County could be required to pay for their blood tests as lab officials seek to recoup costs and hire more toxicologists.

County budget executive director Bill Jackson plans to explore blood test payment options, such as having prosecutors recommend and judges require restitution, the Houston Chronicle reported Monday.

“There are a lot of things that we recover costs for, and this was one that just hadn’t been done in the past,” Jackson said.

Legislators in 2009 approved a law allowing search warrants for blood samples to be expedited if a person refuses to do a breath test. That’s contributed to the number of blood draws tested by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences toxicology lab increasing fivefold by early 2013 – with no additional workers.

The institute in 2012 spent about $358,000 processing more than 6,200 cases, including nearly 2,000 DWI and driving under the influence cases. Last year, it received only about $1,000 in restitution to cover the cost of blood draws, the newspaper reported. Lab officials are seeking to hire more toxicologists.

County Commissioner Jack Cagle, a former county court-at-law judge, said the idea of having violators pay for blood tests that convicted them is worth exploring.

“If the law provides for it currently, then we’re going to need to make sure that we educate our judges to show them that it is authorized,” Cagle said. “If the judges aren’t currently doing it, it’s probably because they are concerned that there’s not adequate precedent for them to do so or legal cover for them to do so.”

The Harris County District Attorney’s office already is authorized under state law to recommend that judges order restitution to cover blood testing costs as a condition of probation or parole, prosecutor Alison Baimbridge said. Prosecutors only do so if the arresting agency specifically requests it.

The sheriff’s office “will explore the issue with the DA to pursue restitution more often,” spokesman Alan Bernstein said in an email.

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