News Jeff gets tough on drunken drivers

Procedures different for holiday weekend

Hoping to crack down on drunken driving during Memorial Day weekend, police agencies in Jefferson Parish will get court orders to draw blood of people who refuse to voluntarily give officers breath tests, District Attorney Paul Connick Jr. said Tuesday.

Under a pilot program Connick’s office has been planning recently, paramedics from East Jefferson General Hospital will be posted at the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center this weekend, prepared to draw blood after the officers get search warrants from magistrates, who also will be on duty all weekend for the effort, Connick said.

“The whole impetus is to reduce the number of alcohol-related deaths and injuries that occur in this parish and that spike during the holidays,” Connick said.

“It’s more of a deterrent than anything else. We don’t want people to drink and drive.”

The program will be in effect from Friday at 6 p.m. to Monday at 11:59 p.m., according to Connick’s office. If an arrested driver refuses to take the breath test or to provide urine or blood, the officers will fax affidavits to the magistrates, who will review whether the officers have probable cause and decide whether to sign the search warrants.

He said authorities in Rapides Parish and in Texas have used the method, but this is a first in the New Orleans area. State Police, the Sheriff’s Office and municipal and bridge police agencies are participating.

Officers already can use the process, but it requires the police to transport suspects to hospitals to have blood drawn, taking the officers off the streets, said Norma Broussard, who oversees parish courts for the Jefferson Parish district attorney’s office. East Jefferson General Hospital has agreed to post EMTs at the correctional center for this weekend, she said.

“That basically streamlines the process,” Broussard said. “Officers don’t have to transport suspects to the hospital.”

Connick said Jefferson Parish ranks fourth in the state for DWI-related fatalities and injuries. In 2007, 19 deaths were related to intoxicated driving, he said, and in 2008, 20 people died and 262 people were injured.

About 39 percent of DWI suspects statewide refuse the tests, often at the advice of attorneys.

“By not blowing, the driver believes it would be more difficult for the prosecution to get a conviction,” Connick said.