Articles Posted in Driving While Intoxicated

lawbooks-1These policies have changed the dynamics of DWI defense in Grayson and adjoining counties, including Fannin.   When I started practicing, around half of DWI trials did not involve a chemical test, but now almost all of them do.   Back then we would mainly argue over the performance and validity of the field sobriety testing, which we still do, and the way a person looks on video.  But, the addition of chemical test evidence means that you now more than ever need a highly trained DWI lawyer like myself who has been thoroughly trained on all aspects of DWI defense.   There are more technical issues in a driving while intoxicated prosecution than most other cases, including most homicides.

You need to ask any attorney you interview with how well they have kept themselves updated and trained in DWI science.  I have learned that you really cannot do too much training on these cases.  The science is very broad and it is important to know every aspect one can to be competent to defend DWIs.   I have taken the same field sobriety training and update as the officers in the field, and have taken many DWI science courses to be able to successfully defend those accused of driving while intoxicated in Texas.   I want to be the best criminal defense lawyer I can be, and in Texas this means being the best DWI lawyer I can be too.  I look forward to discussing your case with you if you are involved in this unfortunate situation.

test-tubes-1412883-200x300While on this point, people often ask whether they should take a chemical test when arrested for driving while intoxicated.   Our general response as defense attorneys is NO, because there are a lot of things that can go wrong with chemical testing.   Both breath testing and blood testing are inexact sciences, and there are lots of human and mechanical errors that can happen to give you a much different result than your actual blood alcohol content.  The test is also completely in the hands of the State, and officers and the laboratory employees can tamper with or mishandle the evidence.  Also, if your blood alcohol content is above the legal DWI limit of .08, you are only producing evidence against yourself.

However, if you are sure your blood alcohol content is zero or close to it, it might be to your advantage to take such a test assuming everything goes right.  Also, there is a shorter ALR license suspension for a chemical test failure, as you are implied by law to consent to chemical testing upon request by law enforcement.    Additionally, Grayson County and neighboring counties have a “no refusal” policy for driving while intoxicated, and a warrant will almost always be applied for by the officer and obtained from a judge.   They will likely take you to the hospital and draw your blood with a warrant upon refusal.   So, the general answer is still that one should refuse a breath or blood test upon request as far as a DWI case is concerned, but they will normally get your blood through search warrant.   However, there are challenges to the search warrant that can be had if it is not proper.

PoliceMustang-1-300x169However, this is not the case with a Grayson County, Texas DWI.   Grayson County District Attorney Joe Brown has a strict policy of no alternative charges for DWI, and I have never seen him give a public intoxication or an obstruction of highway/passageway on a local driving while intoxicated charge.   He would rather let a jury decide your fate than do this, which is why it is very important to hire a real DWI trial lawyer immediately if you have been arrested.    The only way your case is going to “go away” without a finding of guilt on a DWI is for it to be dismissed, which is rare and is normally in the circumstances of a bad stop or arrest (brought up by a good suppression motion), or because your chemical blood alcohol test came out very well for you.   Or, if you have prior military service and are admitted and complete Veterans court, you can obtain a pretrial diversion.  Pretrial diversion is similar to probation but contractual, and only upon completion of the contract terms will your case be dismissed.

So, if you have been arrested for driving while intoxicated in Grayson County, Texas, you need to hire a lawyer and get ready to fight.   It is still very important to hire a lawyer with 15-days of arrest so that they can get your administrative license revocation request to DPS.  This has to be done within 15 days of arrest, or within 20 days of receiving a notice of suspension in the mail. This request will keep your license valid until a contested ALR hearing in front of an administrative judge.   This hearing is limited to whether there was a valid reason to stop and arrest you for DWI, and if you failed a chemical test if you consented to it.   It is a hearing that should only be attended by your attorney, because it is civil in nature and you can be called as a witness.  You can invoke your 5th Amendment privilege against testifying at this hearing, but it can be held against you as to the answers to the questions posed.   These hearings have become harder to win since 2009, as the legislature has continuously eliminated many statutory rights of Respondents at these hearings.  But, they are still winnable if handled correctly, and are an important reason to hire a seasoned DWI lawyer immediately.

Cuffed-300x226 I haven’t written a DWI blog in a bit, so I think it is time to do an update.  Grayson County, Texas is a particularly strict jurisdiction when it comes to driving while intoxicated, but there are still ways to have a better case and a better result in your case.  Joe Brown, the elected Grayson County District Attorney, ran on a platform of strict DWI enforcement back in 2000 and got elected.  So, he pays particular importance to DWI cases.   But since I began practicing in 2005, I have seen some small shifts (and improvements) in the ways that driving while intoxicated is enforced in this and neighboring counties.

If you are arrested for a Texas DWI in many small counties, you can ask for a “reduced” or alternative charge and sometimes get one.   There is technically no lesser included offense to first time driving while intoxicated, and the lesser included offenses to DWI2nd or DWI3rd are just that you have a fewer number of prior convictions.  Class C (traffic ticket level) public intoxication is not a lesser included offense of driving while intoxicated, because public intoxication requires you be so intoxicated as to be a danger to yourself or others.   Obstructing a highway/passageway is another misdemeanor that we try to alternatively get as DWI defenders, because it is not a DWI conviction.   Thus, it does not normally carry the heavy $1000-2000 a year surcharge for three years on your driver’s license, nor require all the conditions of probations as driving while intoxicated.  In many small counties, you can successfully shoot for one of these two charges if your DWI is a close case and in other circumstances.

martini.jpgThe age old question about whether to consent to a DWI breath or blood test is still the question many people who socially drink and fear a DWI investigation want answered, particularly now that they read in the news that cops will forcefully draw their blood if they refuse. The answer in most situations is still “NO”, for several reasons.

First, the breath machine (intoxilyzer machine) has serious reliability issues. Texas still uses the outdated intoxilyzer 5000 machine, although there are numerous better quality machines on the market, in order to save money on machines and parts. The machine assumes that every person has the same breath to blood ratio (X amount of breath equals Y amount of blood, which actually varies greatly). Additionally, simple things like breath temperature, temperature of the machine, proper calibration, etc. can lead to an unreliable result. Also, mouth alcohol could greatly increase the number. Thus, I can see very few circumstances, unless you have not been drinking at all, to consent to a breath test. There are too many scenarios in which you can be under the legal limit, but blow over the legal limit. (Plus, if you are over the legal limit, all you are doing is giving them a “scientific” piece of evidence that will be very damaging to you in court).

The harder question is whether to consent to a blood test now that blood warrants have become so common. A few years ago, blood warrants were unheard of because they were extremely rare in the DWI world. Back then, the officer asked for consent, and you either gave it or you didn’t. Your refusal could and still can be used against you, and that is how they investigated and prosecuted driving while intoxicated cases, using video evidence and field sobriety tests along with the refusal.

beeronice.jpgNot to be outdone by the wisdom of the Oklahoma Legislature, our braniacs in Austin last year enacted “aggravated” driving while intoxicated provisions similar to the Sooner state, whereby a first time offender now faces a year in jail if the person 1) commits the offense of driving while intoxicated, and 2) “If it is shown on the trial of an offense under this section that an analysis of a specimen of the person’s blood, breath, or urine showed an alcohol concentration level of 0.15 or more at the time the analysis was performed.” The offense is enhanced from a Class B to a Class A misdemeanor.

This is problematic in several respects. First of all, a year punishment range (one day short of the Federal definition of a felony) for a first time, no property damage or injury driving while intoxicated is simply ridiculous. Driving while intoxicated is one of the only offenses above a traffic ticket level that has no mental state. I.e. a person does not have to intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or with criminal negligence drive while intoxicated. If you are driving and you are intoxicated (either with a blood alcohol level above .08 or by not being normal due to alcohol or a drug or a combination thereof), you are committing a crime and face the 180 days in jail and $2,000 fine, both of which can be probated for two years. Many good people are arrested for driving while intoxicated for having one drink too many, or because the arresting officer was less competent in his detection skills than he should be.

Now, if you are arrested for driving while intoxicated and cooperate with law enforcement, and the state’s highly unreliable intoxilyzer machine, or a blood test performed by someone who was working at Dairy Queen a few weeks ago, shows a .15 alcohol concentration at the time of the test, not the time of driving, you are punished twice as harshly. Notice, this new law does not require you to be .15 or above at the time of driving, only that your test reveal a .15 or above at the time of testing.

pills.jpgAmerica is a pill culture. Every day a large percentage of our population drives the highways of Texas under the care of prescription medication that can possibly effect their mental or physical abilities. Key word: possibly. Each individual is in the best position to use their judgment as to when they should or should not drive, but you should exercise caution when driving on prescription medication, because it can lead to a DWI arrest. If an officer believes that you have lost the normal use of your physical or mental faculties because of a certain drug, you can be arrested. This includes your own medication. Drugs such as “narcotics” and “painkillers” and “antidepressants/psychotropics” are ones that will get the closest look. And, most officers are not trained extensively on testing for the side effects of these drugs like they are trained to test for alcohol impairment.

Add in alcohol, which could possibly (again, possibly) increase the side effects of certain drugs, and things become much more difficult. Officers have a difficult time in judging how one medication interacts with another, or interacts with alcohol. The prejudice factor is very high, so err on the side of caution when choosing to drive with alcohol, and be much more careful when mixing it with prescription medications. There is a strong likelihood that a DWI stop will result in your arrest, and you will need a lawyer and a toxicologist to help the jury understand why you could have been okay to drive at that point.

If you or someone you know is facing criminal prosecution, please feel free to call me at 903-744-4252.

248031_pills.jpgI recently had the pleasure (and challenge) of representing a particular client that was charged with DWI 3rd or more in Fannin County. The case was unique because the client consented to a blood draw, and in client’s blood was half the legal limit of alcohol (.04), a narcotic analgesic (painkiller) and a central nervous system depressant (muscle relaxer). The State’s theory was “synergistic effect of the drugs,” i.e. that the combination of the drugs caused intoxication. The police officer testified to arresting client for failure to complete the field sobriety test to officer’s satisfaction, plus admission of alcohol and painkillers. However, the officer could not recognize the field sobriety manual for lack of being provided one at training. Also, the officer was also not trained on drug recognition, an additional training course for DWI detection due to drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol.

Additionally, the lab tech who drew the blood admitted that a nurse could have been called pretty easily to test client’s vital signs and to test for intoxication by drugs plus alcohol. The chemist who tested the blood testified and admitted to the hour-long average time to peak ratio, i.e. that it takes about an hour from the last drink to reach your highest concentration. Another chemist testified to “potential side effects” of the narcotic analgesic and nervous system depressants, but admitted on cross that someone that had taken these types as long as client would have a pretty high tolerance level. Another chemist proved up the actual narcotic analgesic tablets found on client.

A pharmacist was called who also testified to the “potential” side effects of these drugs, but admitted that after a few years the narcotic analgesic in question could actually cause euphoric-like energy, and admitted to tolerance issues as well. All admitted that the levels in client’s blood were therapudic. Most admitted to the overt signs of intoxication by the drugs in question that we may have seen through a drug recognition exam (or simple medical exam), had client actually been tested (or his vital signs taken) at the hospital where the blood was drawn.

Cash.jpgI read a good article in the Dallas Morning News earlier this year about the DWI surcharge, and whether the Texas legislature would have the brains to end this failed program. Unintended consequences should always be thoroughly considered before levying a huge “surcharge” on driver’s licenses. I guess it’s kind of hard to think of unintended consequences when you only have six months to pass a bill, but five years of failed policy should at least get the item on the agenda this session.

Contrary to popular belief, the huge “surcharge” or DWI-tax-that-we-can’t-call-a-tax-because-then-it’s-unconstitutional, was passed as a way to raise revenue during a legislative session in which Texas once again found itself overbudget. Unfortunately, DWI defendants, who like most criminal defendants are indigent, failed to be the gold mine that our elected officials envisioned.

Of course, heaven forbid we consider making first-time driving while intoxicated an offense in which deferred adjudication probation is an option, to at least it bring it on par with sexual assault, drug delivery, robbery, and other apparently more “deferred worthy” offenses in Texas. Maybe then citizens who plead guilty to DWI would have more of a chance of keeping or getting a good job, whereby they could pay their outrageous surcharge.

Axe.jpgThe great “hidden fee” of DWI convictions, which neither the prosecutor nor the judge will tell you when one of them tries to talk you into pleading guilty without a lawyer, is the $1,000 to $2,000 a year “surcharge” tax you will pay for three years to keep your right to drive. As if the arrest, posting bail, shopping for an attorney, fighting the ALR hearing process, getting an occupation license if you are unsuccessful, and going through the Court process wasn’t enough, our legislature added this tax as one last giant hammer to wack those convicted of DWI (the guilty, the innocent, the underrepresented, and those talked into not having a lawyer) over the head with on the way out the door.

The DWI surcharge law, Transportation Code § 708.102, went into effect on September 1, 2003. It states, in relevant part, that

(b) Each year the department shall assess a surcharge on the license of each person who during the preceding 36-month period has been finally convicted of an offense relating to the operating of a motor vehicle while intoxicated.