DWI 2nd In Texas

August 30, 2012

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

First I’ll talk a bit about the technical/ legal information of a 2nd DWI charge in Texas — then I’ll discuss some of the more practical aspects or things you won’t find written down anywhere about the attitudes of police, prosecutors and even judges about second DWI arrests.

The Law on a 2nd DWI Charge

Texas Penal Code 49.09(b) says in relevant part:

“an offense… is a Class A misdemeanor… if it is shown on the trial of the offense that the person has previously been convicted one time of an offense relating to the operating of a motor vehicle while intoxicated, an offense of operating an aircraft while intoxicated, an offense of operating a watercraft while intoxicated, or an offense of operating or assembling an amusement ride while intoxicated.”

I should point out what I consider to be several extremely important parts of this provision.  The most obvious is a 2nd DWI is enhanced from a Class B to a Class A misdemeanor and carries a heavier punishment which I discuss in more detail below.

What can be confusing to many, though, is the requirement the first case must have resulted in a “conviction.”  The law is actually a bit tricky here even though it may seem straight forward — it normally means the previous arrest must have resulted in either a guilty plea or a trial where the person was convicted by the judge or jury.  But there are some weird fact scenarios that tend to pop up from time to time.

To be clear for starters — if a first DWI arrest resulted in a dismissal, reduction, or acquittal, then it cannot be used to enhance the first DWI arrest into a 2nd DWI arrest.

A common scenario is where a person is arrested for DWI and before that case can be resolved — the person is arrested again for DWI.  Both arrests would technically qualify as first DWI arrests because on the date of arrest for either, the person had never been “convicted” of Driving While Intoxicated.  Each case would be regarded as a first DWI arrest although if ultimately convicted of both, a third DWI arrest would be enhanced to a Felony DWI 3rd.

Another common issue is that the person’s first DWI, DUI or OUI arrest might be from a state, territory or jurisdiction besides Texas.  The problem here is 49.09(b) has rather loose language that the previous conviction must be of “…an offense relating to the operating of a motor vehicle while intoxicated.”  The result is a court must harmonize whatever happened elsewhere to see if it’s substantially similar to our DWI law.  This is very problematic because some state’s have very different requirements for what constitutes DWI, DUI or OUI.

The last major part of 49.09(b) I should point out is there is no time limitation in the statute — meaning the first DWI conviction can be more than 10, 20, or 30 years ago and the second arrest will still be enhanced.  This was a change from previous Texas law which held that the first conviction must have been within 10 years of the second arrest.  In what can only be described in a constant patter of tightening DWI laws — the legislature did away with the 10 year requirement.

More Major Differences Between a First and Second DWI

  • If you’re arrested for a DWI 2nd offense, you’re required by law upon release from jail to have an interlock ignition device installed on your car as a term and condition of bond pursuant to Tex.Code.Crim.P. 17.441;
  • The punishment range goes from 72 hours jail to 180 days and up to $2,000 fine (on a Class B – 1st DWI ) to 30 days minimum to 1 year confinement in the county jail and up to $4,000 fine for the Class A misdemeanor;
  • Though an the entire jail sentence (as described above) can be probated, the Judge must order a person convicted of a second DWI to at least 10 days of jail as a minimum “term and condition” of probation under Tex.Code.Crim.P. 42.12 Sec.13(a)(1).
  • An interlock ignition device is mandatory on probation.
  • The sur-charge to keep your driver’s license with the Texas Dept. of Public Safety in Austin is $1,500 per year for three years (up from $1,000 per year on a first DWI arrest).

DWI Court/ Drug Court

Collin County has several courts which act as special courts trying to deal with drug and/or alcohol abuse issues.  If someone either pleads guilty or is found guilty of a Second DWI offense, the DWI Court can evaluate a person to see if they’re appropriate candidates for the program.  The court can conduct an intensive but incentivized probation for the person convicted of the second DWI.

Fighting the 2nd DWI Charge

The good news is almost always the Texas Rules of Evidence will disallow a jury from any knowledge of a first DWI conviction during the guilt-innocence portion of a trial.  This means not-guilty verdicts are still just as possible as they are for first time arrestees and juries aren’t tainted with the irrelevant knowledge of a previous arrest .  If anything, the tougher punishments and sentences for a 2nd DWI actually gives a person more incentive to fight than to plead guilty on average.

What You Won’t See in Books

Police and prosecutor attitudes about 2nd DWI arrests can be a bit stubborn.  Remember, it’s not the police or prosecutor’s job to presume a person innocent — and with a 2nd DWI they surely don’t.  Many think even though the first arrest may have been years and years ago that they are dealing with an alcoholic who needs to be taught a lesson.

Fortunately you have options.  First is that these cases can still be defended aggressively, powerfully and persuasively and often do result in acquittals.  Secondly, although punishment on intoxication cases have progressively gotten meaner and meaner — there has been more of a prevailing attitude over the past decade which finally understands cruelty, jail and harshness don’t help someone battling alcohol issues.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Texas.  Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice about any situation you should contact an attorney directly.  Contacting the attorney through this forum does not create an attorney-client relationship.  Communications sent through this forum are not confidential nor protected by the attorney-client privilege.


TxDOT Signs Bend Truth for Noble Cause

August 27, 2012

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

On a recent drive to Austin and back, I couldn’t help but notice about 10 or 15 Texas Department of Transportation electronic signs which flashed two sequential screens.  The first was “1785 Deaths This Year on Texas Roads” and the second was a reminder not to drink and drive.

Wow, I thought… I didn’t realize drunk driver’s caused about 250 deaths per month in Texas alone!  Then I started thinking this figure sounded a bit too high.  Then my lawyer brain started to kick in and I realized the TxDOT signs were sort of making a play on words… The signs didn’t actually SAY all 1785 were caused by DWI — they had their fingers crossed!

The Obvious

No one wants drunk drivers on our roads.  Losing a loved one on the highway is a terrible tragedy no one should experience regardless of whether it’s inattentive driving, road rage, texting or drunk driving.  Hopefully the TxDOT officials decision to publish the number of traffic related deaths will turn heads and in doing so make our highways a safer place to drive.  You can read some of the PR they got here and here.

The Rub

The signs leave the clear impression the 1785 tragic losses on the highway are ALL due to Driving While Intoxicated.  When you read the quote from TxDOT spokesman Mark Petit, he says “We think that pointing out the number of deaths that have occurred so far this year will make somebody think twice maybe about whether they should pick up that cell phone and text somebody, or whether they should buckle that seatbelt.”

But the signs don’t say, “Buckle Up” and they don’t say, “Don’t Text and Drive.”  Each sign I saw had the same sequence of traffic deaths followed by the warnings against drinking and driving.

Here’s Why It’s A Problem

It’s a problem because it leaves a false impression, over-exaggerates, and stokes the flames against a group of people that it’s already somewhat popular to pick on — DWI suspects.  TxDOT concedes traffic fatalities have declined 21% in roughly the past decade and Mr. Petit’s warning in the above quote is also clearly against distracted driving.

Think of how angry you would be if your husband, wife, son or daughter were on trial for Driving While Intoxicated and during the jury selection process, you hear extremely angry jurors who want to presume a suspect guilty and give them far harsher punishment — because they’re lead to believe DWI related deaths are approximately 300% worse than they actually are (in 2011, TxDOT reports 3,015 total highway deaths and 1,039 “involved” alcohol).

If there is harm in the Texas Department of Transportation also warning drivers to put down hand-held devices and to wear seat belts in conjunction with the traffic death statistics — I have a hard time seeing it.  Everyone wants safer roads.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is an attorney licensed to Practice in the State of Texas.  Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice about any situation you should contact an attorney directly.  Contacting the attorney through this forum does not create an attorney-client relationship and communications sent through this forum are not privileged nor confidential.

 


Does a DWI Ruin Your Life?

August 13, 2012

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

No.  Ruin is a bit harsh of a word — but they’re definitely not pleasant.

I commonly describe a DWI arrest as “a misdemeanor on steroids.”  This is because the most DWI arrests are Class B or A Misdemeanors in Texas — and the vast majority of cases where the person is convicted results in probation like any other misdemeanor.  Felony DWI cases or cases where someone is hurt or even deceased from a DWI accident are another story.

I generally tell most clients that while a DWI certainly isn’t good for one’s criminal record — there is only so bad it will generally hurt.  My experience is that the impact of a DWI is typically felt the hardest with persons who are in the transportation industry.  That would be pilots, bus drivers, or truck drivers.  Also a DWI can be very bad for law enforcement professionals or other public servants.  Each profession is different — so there’s unfortunately no one-size-fits-all rule.

Most of what’s difficult about a DWI, though, is the punishment for the case itself.

Here’s what you have to remember about the politics behind DWI and DUI cases — no politician in Texas ever won by bragging about how light he/she has been on “drunk drivers.”  People accused of driving while intoxicated make very easy targets for politicians in Austin or local law enforcement officials trying to act tough.

So what’s the result?  A misdemeanor on steroids.

DWI convictions (which aren’t a foregone conclusion) come with all sorts of extra ‘baggage’ for lack of a better term which aren’t tacked onto to other common misdemeanor charges like usable amount marijuana possession.

For instance, there is no “deferred adjudication” on DWI cases which means that if a person pleads guilty (or is found guilty by a jury) — they will have a conviction which lasts forever and there is currently no way to mitigate, expunge, or minimize the arrest in the future.

Another example is the addition of surcharges to keep your license for a DWI conviction.  If convicted of DWI, there s a $1,000 fee per year for 3 years to keep your license.  If it’s a 2nd DWI conviction — that fee goes up to $1,500 per year.  If there is a breath or blood specimen above 0.16, then it’s a $2,000 surcharge.

Additional examples of how DWI’s are distinguished from other misdemeanors are the requirements for a deep lung device in certain cases and/or mandatory minimum jail sentences which don’t exist in other cases.

A misdemeanor DWI won’t ruin your life.  There is hope you can win and you do have to take it very seriously.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Texas.  Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice about any situation you should talk to an attorney directly.  Communications sent through this forum are not confidential and contacting the attorney does not create an attorney client relationship.