In New Mexico, a former State Police officer facing driving while intoxicated (DWI) charges has made headlines by seeking the dismissal of her case and the suppression of a 911 call that is the basis for her arrest. The issues in her case are not unique to New Mexico, as Houston defense attorneys like Doug Murphy have focused on similar issues in the past.
Former State Police officer and sheriff's deputy Jessica Turner was arrested on suspicion of DWI in February 2018 after she was found slumped over her steering wheel while parked on the side of a country road. Law enforcement was notified through a 911 call of an erratic driver, and Turner's pickup truck matched the vehicle.
After her arrest, she maintained her innocence, and her attorney has raised a number of issues pointing to her not driving the vehicle while intoxicated:
- the truck was not in drive;
- the keys were not in the ignition or even in the vehicle;
- the truck was parked safely off the road; and
- the 911 caller could not identify her as the erratic driver.
No Evidence of Driving in Houston DWI Cases
It may seem simplistic to say that a key element of a DWI is that the suspect is found to have been driving. However, whether or not a person was driving can be the central point of a DWI case in situations like the one described above. This is certainly the case under Texas law.
There are three elements required to prove DWI in Texas:
- You were illegally intoxicated.
- You were in a public place.
- You were operating a motor vehicle.
Note that operating a motor vehicle is not the same thing as driving. This means that even if no one witnessed you driving, you could still be found guilty of a DWI. That said, proving the case against you becomes far more challenging to the prosecution if no one saw you driving.
There are two important considerations related to operating a motor vehicle.
First, simply sitting in the driver's seat with the keys in the ignition is enough to establish that you were operating a vehicle. This is the case even if you were asleep, pulled over to the side of the road. However, the court must consider all the evidence in your case. If there are other factors that point to you not having driven the vehicle, your attorney could use those to your advantage.
The second important consideration is that, much like with the case described above, police can use circumstantial evidence to show that you were operating a motor vehicle. Even if police do not witness you driving, they could make an arrest at the scene of a car accident. Additionally, courts have found that law enforcement can investigate a person that fits the description of an erratic driver called in by the public, even if officers did not witness them driving in a dangerous manner.
Get the Most out of Your Defense with Attorney Doug Murphy
There is no bright line for determining what a jury might find to be convincing evidence of DWI or not. However, with the help of an experienced lawyer, you could build a strong case that shows the prosecutor failed to prove that you were ever driving the vehicle in question. To learn more about this defense, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. right away.