Families wait for justice as DWI cases face setback
EL PASO, Texas-- Families waiting for justice in drunken driving crashes face another setback.
A recent court ruling will force prosecutors to adjust their approach on certain DWI cases.
"Five years is a very long time to wait and wait and wait," said Dinah Arreola.
Arreola buried her 21-year-old daughter Evalynn-Marie Rose five years ago.
Two people were charged with driving drunk and killing Evalynn and her best friend Jeanatte Lazaro.
"My daughter always said 'time waits for no one, mom,'" said Arreola.
But five years later, Evalynn's family is waiting for a trial, which at times seems out of reach.
The blood draws in the case cannot be used as evidence.
The accident happened in 2011.
At the time, under Texas law, it was legal to take blood from drivers in suspected drunken driving accidents with an injury or death.
But a Supreme Court decision in 2013 followed by a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision in 2014 ruled the blood draws were an illegal search and seizure.
It now requires officers to obtain a warrant before drawing blood.
The state of Texas asked for a re-hearing on the issue and it was granted.
Arreola was holding onto hope the decision would be reversed.
But just a few weeks ago, that hearing was denied.
"The constitutional rights are the ones that we have to protect," said state Rep. Joe Moody, who is also a former prosecutor. "This decision may be one that people disagree with and it may negatively impact cases," said Moody.
He said prosecutors will have to find another way to prove their cases.
"Is there other evidence of intoxication that we can look at?" said Moody.
But many cases across the state could be in jeopardy
"If that's really the only evidence that becomes a very difficult decision. In these cases you have people who have lost their lives," said Moody.
There is one exception to the ruling; blood can be taken without a warrant if there are "exigent circumstances."
That means cases where the evidence could be altered, if not collected immediately.
"Not that blood alcohol is going to dissipate but the evidence is actually going to be changed," said Moody.
Its on a case-by-case basis and up to a judge to make the decision.
Prosecutors are expected to make that argument in the case of Joel Garcia .
The boxer is charged with killing three people on Christmas Eve 2014.
His blood was taken without a warrant and initially thrown out of the case. However prosecutors are appealing that decision.
Moody said best practices going forward would be for law enforcement to obtain warrants in all cases.
"Its changes the way things are being done at the front line of combating DWI(s)," said Moody.
A trial can't change the impact of a crash.
But for families hoping for some closure, they're counting on their day in court.
"Our kids aren't coming back, and that's reality but what we want is to have a little peace of mind," said Arreola.
Moody says its unlikely the Legislature will be able to pass anything to counter the courts' ruling.
"I think anything we did going forward would be struck down again. My guess is, going forward, we will try to strengthen our DWI laws in other ways," said Moody.
Right now "No refusal" is in effect in El Paso 24/7.
That means if a driver refuses a breathalyzer, law enforcement officers will get a search warrant for a blood draw.