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'No Refusal Zone' In St. Louis Cuts Number Of Drivers Who Don't Take A Breathalyzer In Half

Washington University

The prosecuting attorney for St. Louis says a new anti-drunk-driving policy implemented in St. Louis in 2013 has made the roads in the city and across the region safer.

The city implemented a so-called "no-refusal zone" policy at the end of 2013. It means police are asking judges for warrants to draw the blood of any suspected drunk driver who refuses a Breathalyzer test. Before, police would ask to have blood drawn only if the driver had been in an accident.   

The number of people refusing Breathalyzers in the city dropped by 50 percent, said circuit attorney Jennifer Joyce Tuesday at a press conference. She said many of the people who refused to blow and instead had their blood tested had blood alcohol levels more than four times the legal limit.

"There were levels of alcohol where it was just staggering that people were actually driving cars under that condition," she said. "We never would have detected them in the past because we didn't have the n0-refusal zone."

Joyce said she's waiting on another year of data to determine if a no-refusal zone policy has any effect on drunk driving convictions. Dwight Scroggins, the prosecutor in Buchanan County,  said the policy had led to higher conviction rates for his office.

St. Louis's new policy has also changed the advice defense attorneys give to clients who are facing arrest for drunk driving. About 60 percent of Webster Groves attorney John Schleiffarth's business is drunk driving cases. 

"My general advice is don't blow; Don't give the police any more evidence than they already have, or any evidence they might be able to use against you," Schleiffarth said. "With the no-refusal zone, I think it becomes a much more case-by-case basis."

Schleiffarth said everyone should have the contact information for a criminal defense attorney with them at all times, and consult that attorney if they are arrested for suspected drunken driving. He said his fellow defense attorneys are telling clients the same thing.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.