Driving While Intoxicated

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What does DWI mean in Texas?

DWI in Texas has a very detailed definition. Simply put DWI means:

  • a specific person
  • was operating
  • a motor vehicle
  • in a public place
  • while intoxicated.

To be a viable case, each element above must be proven by the State. Additionally, the caselaw is lengthy and detailed as to what constitutes proof of each element above. For example, “Intoxicated” is defined as not having the normal use of a person’s mental or physical faculties or having a blood alcohol concentration of .080 or more. Further, the Prosecutor has to be able to prove that the intoxication must be caused by alcohol, illegal drugs, controlled substances, another impairing substance, or a combination of these, to be sufficient to meet the definition. To do this, the Prosecutor may rely on various types of evidence, all of which must meet strict requirements to be admissible in Court. If the State does not have sufficient evidence to prove intoxication as explained above, the case cannot proceed and must be dismissed as a matter of law. Do you know whether the Prosecution has sufficient evidence to prove every element of your case? Read more.

What else is the Prosecutor required to prove?

(1) The original traffic stop was based on sufficient legal justification.
The Officer’s act of stopping your vehicle must be supported by “Reasonable Suspicion”. Reasonable Suspicion has a very detailed and specific definition. For example, did you know that Reasonable Suspicion does NOT exist if the only fact given is that a driver was ‘weaving within their lane’. Knowing this, ask yourself, why did the Officer pull you over?

(2) The detention that occurred after the stop was “reasonable”.
An Officer’s actions in detaining a person after a traffic stop must be “reasonable”. Generally, the detention becomes unreasonable when the Officer keeps a person detained for too long, or moves them too far from the original stop location. An unreasonable detention is also referred to by the Courts as an Illegal Detention. The remedy for an illegal detention is a suppression of evidence obtained after the time of the illegal detention or a dismissal of the Prosecutor’s case.

(3) Evidence gathered by the Officer at the scene is admissible in Court.
Once an Officer has developed “Probable Cause” to make an arrest, there are many, many legal hoops the Officer must jump through in order to ensure the rights of the Citizen accused are not violated. If the Citizen’s rights are violated, some or all of the evidence obtained after that point may not be admissible in Court. For example, immediately following the time of arrest, the Citizen’s responses to an Officer’s questions are not admissible in Court unless (1) all of the proper warnings were given, and (2) the warnings were video or audio recorded, and (3) the Citizen accused specifically acknowledged and waived those rights.

(4) The Officer conducted “Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs)” correctly.

There are three primary SFSTs used in Texas. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, the Walk-and-Turn, and One-Leg-Stand. Most jurors recognize them from television and think of them as the “eye test” (HGN), “walk the line test” (Walk-and-Turn), and “hold your foot up test” (One-Leg-Stand). At first, Jurors think of these as relatively simple tests, but by properly educating the jury they come to learn that they are anything but simple and many licensed drivers are unable to perform them correctly even when well rested, clear headed and in gym shoes. Further, when an Officer fails to administer the tests as prescribed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requirements the Jury will likely disregarded the tests in part or whole, and/ or the Judge may not allow some or all of the tests to be shown to the Jury.

(5) Breath or Blood evidence was properly obtained.
After an arrest, an Officer may request a sample of a person’s breath or blood. To collect a sample, the Officer must obtain it by way of a very limited number of options. Failure of the Officer to follow the law in obtaining a breath or blood specimen will likely result in the evidence being inadmissible in Court. For example, in making the request for consent, the Officer must read from a standard form called a DIC-24 form. Additionally, the Officer must provide this form in writing to the person he or she has arrested. These are the first of many, many steps an Officer must get exactly right in order to properly obtain a breath or blood sample. Ask yourself, did the Officer get everything right in your case?

(6) Breath or Blood evidence is reliable and admissible.
Once an Officer has obtained a sample of breath or blood, the sample must be proven to be reliable to be admissible in Court. If the sample is not reliable, it cannot come into evidence in a trial. A dismissal is likely when a Judge has determined the sample will not come into evidence. There are many, many reasons why a sample is not admissible. For example, if the collection was faulty: the person who drew the blood was not qualified to perform the procedure, or the person who drew the blood did not do it properly, or it was properly drawn but collected in a blood vial not made for this type of testing. Further, there are many requirements for storage of the blood that must be performed correctly. Also, the testing itself is commonly subject to problems, with either unreliable equipment or simple human error. Any one of these examples, and the hundreds more not listed, are grounds for a case to be dismissed.

These examples are by no means a complete list. In fact, these examples represent only a small portion of the tip of the iceberg; but, they do serve to highlight the point: many obstacles exist between a Prosecutor and a conviction.