The prior big 2020 Texas DWI story had to do with how the pandemic roiled the pattern of DWI violations and prosecutions, specifically in the Houston area. Everyone knows that 2020 has been unlike any other year, which has been just as true for DWI prosecutions.
Another big 2020 DWI story is the continuing advance of DWI technologies affecting the incidence of DWI violations and repeat offenses. Late 2019 saw federal legislation introduced to require by 2024 that motor vehicles have advanced alcohol-detection devices preventing the vehicle from starting if the operator had illegal blood-alcohol levels. That federal legislation would vastly broaden current state laws requiring certain DWI offenders to install such devices on any operated vehicle.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given everything else going on politically in 2020, the federal legislation did not advance to become law in 2020. Ignition devices nonetheless made additional advances in 2020. A recent National Conference of State Legislatures report states that several more states in 2020 joined the many states already requiring DWI offenders to install advanced alcohol-detection devices on operated vehicles. Indeed, Texas Transportation Code 521.246 authorizes ignition interlock devices for first-time DWI offenders who wish to retain their driver's license while requiring ignition interlock devices for repeat offenders.
According to the same National Conference of State Legislatures report, another accelerating technological trend making a big 2020 DWI story is the state-by-state increase in the authorization and promotion of oral-fluid tests to measure blood-alcohol levels. A Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility's map of the seventeen states currently authorizing oral-fluid tests does not include Texas but does include the surrounding states of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. The National Conference report indicates that this year, Alabama and Michigan went beyond simply authorizing oral-fluid tests, to promoting them through regular-use or pilot programs.
Oral-fluid tests at a DWI stop may sound like a helpful convenience, but the tests introduce a host of significant problems. Just as officer-operated breathalyzers are often wrong, officers handling new oral-fluid tests are likely to lack the medical skill, training, and experience to produce reliable test results. And of course this is assuming, as one often should not, that the tests themselves are reliable. A National Institutes of Health study on the reliability of oral-fluid tests for different drugs, for instance, shows surprisingly varied results, from 80% to just 50% accuracy--good, maybe, for some purposes but not for criminal charges.
Texas DWI defense attorney Doug Murphy, a Board Certified DWI Specialist, closely follows the science, medicine, and police practices relating to these and other DWI technologies. He helps his DWI clients challenge unreliable tests administered by unqualified officers. Poor test results need not lead to conviction but may instead be inaccurate. Put your trust in aggressive defense counsel, not uncertain DWI technologies. Technology advances every year but doesn't necessarily bring justice along with it. That Texas did not in 2020 follow the national trend toward use of oral-fluid tests for DWI evidence may be the big 2020 Texas DWI story. Look forward to the next 2020 big-story post from 2021 Houston DWI Lawyer of the Year Doug Murphy, on the new DWI deferred-adjudications law