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The Consequences of Drugged Driving in Texas Are Severe

Drunk driving gets a significant amount of media coverage. Campaigns target drunk drivers, and holidays are especially known for increased enforcement at DUI checkpoints. With all this attention, it can be easy to forget that drugged driving is also prevalent in Houston. According to the Washington Post, 2015 was the first year in which drugged driving caused more traffic fatalities than drunk driving. These statistics have lead many law enforcement agencies to step up their efforts to target drivers who are impaired by prescription and recreational drugs. Houston defendants who have been charged with DWI, whether from drugs or alcohol, face severe criminal penalties and many other collateral consequences.DWI attorneys

How Current Drugged Driving Laws Make it Difficult to Protect Defendant’s Constitutional Rights

The Texas Penal Code Section 49.01(1) defines intoxication as not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol or a controlled substance into the body.

However, despite the fact that driving under the influence of opioids is a crime, this law is incredibly difficult to enforce and prosecute. Like most other states, Texas has not been able to set a blood level at which impaired driving from drug use can be inferred. Unlike alcohol, researchers have not yet been able to confidently assess the point at which humans are likely to be impaired by such drugs. This makes it more difficult for officers to establish probable cause that a driver is impaired by drugs.

The Illinois Herald-Review interviewed officers to learn more about the challenges faced by drug recognition experts. One such DRE reported that he is often called to a scene when the suspect’s blood alcohol content does not match his or her observed level impairment.

The vague statutory definition works both for and against defendants. From a prosecution standpoint, it is difficult to prove a charge when there is no definitive blood level for drug impairment, as there is for alcohol impairment. On the other hand, defendants are often left with only their own testimony that they did not feel impaired at the time of the offense. This testimony is rarely enough to persuade a jury. More importantly, a defendant may be forced to give up the constitutional protection against self-incrimination in order to invoke this defense.

A common example occurs when a defendant admits that he or she has been using a prescription medication, but is not impaired by it. This statement – which was intended to be used to clear the defendant of wrongdoing – can later be found at the center of the prosecution’s case against the defendant.

These ambiguities in drugged driving enforcement make it even more important for DWI defendants to seek legal advice. If you or a loved one has been charged with driving while intoxicated by drugs, contact an experienced Houston DWI defense attorney as soon as possible. You have important constitutional rights which must be protected.

The Consequences of a First Time DWI Offense in Texas

It a lesson that many criminal defendants learn the hard way: even the first DUI offense can carry costly, time-consuming consequences which plague the defendant’s life for years to come. A sentence in the criminal court is just the start of a long and painful process.

DWI has many consequences

Mandatory Sentencing for a DWI

The Texas Penal Code makes the following provision for sentencing a defendant for a first DWI offense:

  • Without prior convictions, a DWI is designated as a class four misdemeanor. (Texas Statutes, Title 10 49.09)
  • Class Four Misdemeanors are punishable by a fine of up to $4000, a jail term of up to one year, or both. (Texas Statutes, Title 3 12.21)

The Texas Statutes also provide for the suspension of the defendant’s drivers license regardless of the outcome of the criminal case. Under Title 7 §524.001, an arresting officer must take a DWI suspect’s driver’s license and issue a notice of suspension, along with a temporary license valid for forty one days. The Department of Public Safety must then suspend the driver’s license if the defendant had a blood alcohol concentration over the legal limit. This entire process in entirely independent of any criminal proceedings.

Once a defendant incurs a second DWI within five years, the court must order the defendant to install an ignition interlock device, which prevents the defendant from operating the vehicle without first passing a breath test.  (Texas Statutes, Title 10 §49.09(h)). The Defendant is prohibited from driving any vehicle without an ignition interlock device during this time. If a defendant is proven to have any prior DWIs, he or she must also be sentenced to jail for a minimum of thirty days. (Texas Statutes, Title 10 §49.09(a)).

The Consequences That Many Defendants Don’t Know About 

Unfortunately, there are many collateral consequences of a DWI conviction beyond the mandatory sentence in the criminal case.  Any DWI case requires several court appearances, which are often during work hours. Community service also impacts a defendant’s performance at work. Substance abuse screening or counseling can also be ordered by the court, and this, too, can require a defendant to miss even more time from work. On the whole, the chances of getting thorough a DWI case without any impact upon the defendant’s work life are not great.

There are also administrative consequences for a DWI defendant’s driver’s license. The driver must meet all requirements and apply for reinstatement of his or her license through the Texas Department of Public Safety. As with most DMV matters, this process is neither quick nor pleasant. If a driver has temporary or restricted driving privileges reinstated, this requires yet another administrative process upon eligibility for reinstatement of full driving privileges.

There are many collateral consequences to any DWI conviction, even if it is the first offense. Defendants can protect their legal rights by consulting with an experienced Texas DWI attorney. Attorney Joseph J. Labella has over twenty years of experience in successfully defending DWI cases. He ensures that DWI defendants have their rights protected to ensure a just outcome for their legal cases.