One of the more interesting stories in news relating to driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Texas deals with a man who bit off a piece of a police officer's ear during a traffic stop. There is, however, more to the story than first meets the eye.
DWI Suspect Bites Officer's Ear During Traffic Stop
The incident happened late on Friday, February 8, 2019, in Denton, which just over 4 hours north of Houston. According to the initial reports, police pulled over a vehicle that they said was driving erratically and failing to maintain a lane on Interstate 35.
The traffic stop turned into a DWI investigation when the officer claimed to see a small empty vodka bottle inside the car. The driver refused to get out of the car, so police called for backup. When officers tried getting the driver out of the car, he fought back by punching one of them in the face. In the ensuing scuffle, the driver managed to pin an officer to the ground. There, he bit an inch off of the top of the officer's ear.
The driver was tased multiple times before he was arrested and taken into custody. He is now facing charges for DWI, resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, and aggravated assault.
Cause of Initial Seizure Unclear
Naturally, media reports focus on the click-bait-worthy details of the altercation. All of them, though, have overlooked an important detail surrounding the arrest: Why was the driver being pulled from his vehicle in the first place? Was it because he refused a field sobriety test? Or, was it because he was already displaying symptoms of illegal intoxication?
It is unclear from the reports how far the DWI investigation had progressed at the time of the altercation. However, there are also no details of the driver's blood alcohol content (BAC) at the time of the arrest – a staple detail in news stories dealing with DWI arrests. Without BAC evidence, there should not have been an arrest for DWI (but there could have been one for an open container charge if indeed there was an open vodka bottle in the car, but that charge too is problematic if the bottle was indeed empty and not "partially" full of some content of alcohol).
Field Sobriety Tests are Not Mandatory in Texas
One possible source for the altercation could have been a field sobriety test. Police officers can gather evidence of a DWI by asking drivers to step out of their vehicle to perform a field sobriety test. However, unlike breathalyzers and chemical BAC tests, field sobriety tests are not mandatory or subject to a warrant in Texas. Drivers can refuse to take a field sobriety test without violating the state's implied consent law. While prosecutors can use a field sobriety test refusal as evidence of a DWI, the evidence of a failed test is often far more damning.
Therefore, if this altercation stemmed from the driver's refusal to exit his vehicle to perform a field sobriety test, then the force used to pull him out could have violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable seizures. This is true whether the traffic stop occurs in Denton or Houston or anywhere else throughout Texas.
Houston's Premier DWI Defense Lawyer
An arrest for DWI in Houston is a major event that can change your life. The fines and jail time you can face are steep, and the professional repercussions and inconvenience of a license suspension can wreak havoc in your personal, academic, and/or professional lives. Defending against the charge is essential. Call DWI defense lawyer Doug Murphy at (713) 229-8333 or contact him online.