E. Texas man granted new trial after life sentence for felony DWI
SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - An East Texas man serving a life sentence for a felony DWI has been granted a new trial.
Samuel Christopher Gentry pleaded guilty to his third DWI in May 2013 and a Smith County jury sentenced him to life in prison. Thursday, a Texas appeals court reversed that sentence.
"What this case today does is it reaffirms that the Fourth Amendment is foundational to our country and to our law and you can't just ignore it and the legislature can't just get rid of it to make things easier," says Reeve Jackson, Gentry's appellate attorney.
At the time Gentry was arrested, officers were relying on a Texas statute that allowed warrantless blood draws if the person had been convicted of a least two prior DWIs. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Gentry had multiple criminal convictions, including two DWIs as well as robbery, burglary, drug charges, and even escaping from jail.
In 2012, Gentry was detained by a Tyler police officer for committing traffic violations. According to the courts of appeals opinion, when that officer approached Gentry, he noticed his eyes were bloodshot, his speech was slurred, and his breath smelled of alcohol. After determining the prior DWI convictions, the officer arrested Gentry and forced him to submit to a blood draw without getting a warrant first.
After Gentry's arrest, a U.S. Supreme Court decision found the statute the officer relied on violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
That decision held warrantless blood draws must be based on an exception to the warrant requirement. In Gentry's case, the court of appeals held there was no applicable exception.
"There is now a holding that that blood test is inadmissible and so absent some other evidence, which isn't going to exist in this case, the district attorney is going to be in a very tough position to go forward and prosecute this case," says Jackson.
He says this decision will serve as a new precedent.
"I think what you'll see is more and more district attorney's offices across the state doing more education of their officers and developing policies between law enforcement and judges and the district attorney's office to handle these cases at the time of arrest to make sure that blood draws are legally done," says Jackson.
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