A Whitehouse man with a lengthy criminal history had his third and most recent conviction for driving while intoxicated overturned on appeal Thursday. 44-year-old Samuel Gentry has been serving a life sentence in that case since 2013.
Gentry's 2012 DWI came as a result of a traffic stop conducted by a Tyler police officer. The officer quickly determined he was drunk, attempted to get Gentry to participate in a breathalyzer test and, upon Gentry's refusal, obtained a medical blood draw from Gentry without a warrant. The analysis of the blood draw later became key evidence for the prosecution in the potential criminal trial against Gentry.
Warrantless blood draws have been relatively commonplace in Texas against offenders known to have at least two DWIs in the past.
During the pretrial phase, Gentry and attorney Reeve Jackson moved to have the blood draw thrown out. 241st District Judge Jack Skeen, Jr. denied that motion, allowing the evidence in for all purposes. Gentry later decided to plead guilty and allow a jury to sentence him.
At around the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court was deciding a case known as Missouri v. McNeeley in which the defendant had also been subjected to a warrantless blood draw. Prosecutors argued that such procedures were necessary due to the relatively quick evacuation of alcohol from the blood stream due to metabolic processes. The Supreme Court ultimately upheld the defendant's right against "unreasonable search and seizure."
Texas' warrantless blood draws have long been based on a section of the state's Transportation Code in which "the [DWI suspect known to be a serial offender] is deemed to have consented ... to submit to the taking of one or more specimens of the person's breath or blood for analysis to determine the alcohol concentration."
Gentry's appeal argued that the above statute was unconstitutional based on the McNeeley decision. The Twelfth Court of Appeals agreed, blunting prosecutors' rebuttal that the officer was acting in good faith based on an existing law by citing other case law which notes that "A statute cannot support objectively reasonable reliance if, in passing the statute, the legislature wholly abandoned its responsibility to enact constitutional laws."
The Twelfth Court went on to note that the statute, on its face, does "not explicitly provide for a warrantless search."
The court's final ruling held that "the implied consent and mandatory blood draw statutory schemes found in the transportation code are not exceptions to the warrant requirement under the Fourth Amendment." The result was Gentry's case being reversed and remanded to the original trial court.
The State's Attorney's office confirmed Tuesday that approximately a dozen cases stretching across Texas were being reviewed and overturned under similar circumstances. They confirmed an ongoing effort to file so-called petitions for discretionary review in an attempt to prevent the cases from being remanded to lower courts.
The Smith County District Attorney's office released statistics Tuesday showing exactly 800 appeals handled since 2004. Of those, 7 cases (less than 1%) were reversed on appeal based on prosecutorial error. 15 cases (less than 2%) were reversed based on judicial error. District Attorney Matt Bingham declined to comment specifically on Gentry's situation.
The Tyler Police Department declined to comment as well.