Although a first-offense DWI is generally a Class A misdemeanor in Texas, there are a number of potential “enhancements” that can bump the actual charge all the way up to a major felony.
For example, according to Section 49.09 of the Texas Penal Code, drunk driving is a first-degree felony if the defendant’s actions “caused serious bodily injury to a peace officer” while that officer was “in the discharge of an official duty.”
To be clear, a first-degree felony is the most serious non-capital felony you can be charged with in Texas, and a court may sentence you to between 5 and 99 years upon conviction.
Court Rejects Seat Belt Defense in Death of Police Officer
A recent Texas DWI case, Torres v. State, illustrates just how seriously prosecutors take DWI and drunk driving cases when a police officer is hurt. In this case, two police officers were returning to their station at the end of their shift.
It was about 2:30 a.m. and the officers were traveling northbound on Highway 69. Another driver later testified that he saw the defendant driving the wrong-way in the northbound lane of Highway 69. Shortly thereafter, the defendant’s vehicle collided with the police car containing the two officers. One of the officers died due to injuries sustained in the crash.
A subsequent investigation determined the defendant had consumed two alcoholic beverages at a nearby restaurant prior to the accident. He had also attended two parties that same evening and there were two 12-packs of alcohol in his vehicle. And when asked by first responders if he had been drinking, the defendant replied, “I’m not that drunk.”
A grand jury indicted the defendant for manslaughter. A jury found him guilty and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. On appeal, the defense challenged the trial judge’s decision to exclude a proposed expert witness. At the time of the crash, neither officer was wearing a seatbelt. The defense expert planned to testify that had the officer who died worn her seatbelt, there was a high probability she would have survived the crash.
The court did not allow the expert to testify, however, not because the testimony itself would have been unreliable, but rather because it conflicted with how Texas law defined “causation” in these types of accidents.
As the Court of Appeals explained in an opinion upholding the defendant’s manslaughter conviction, the defendant was still criminally responsible for the officer’s death unless the evidence showed that some other cause “by itself” could have caused the accident or death.
In other words, since the expert’s testimony could not eliminate the defendant’s drunk driving as a cause of the accident, said testimony “would not have been helpful to the jury,” according to the Court of Appeals.
Arrested for DWI?
Galveston DWI Lawyer Tad Nelson Today
Anytime that someone is killed or seriously injured in a car accident, you can guarantee the police will look to DWI or drunk driving as a potential cause. So if you are the driver under investigation, you must be prepared to defend yourself in court. If you need legal advice or representation from a qualified Houston DWI attorney, contact Galveston DWI lawyer Tad Nelson today to schedule a free case review.