On October 17, 2020, a celebrity gossip website announced that reality TV star Michelle Theriot—“Gramma Mimi” on TLC's hit show Outdaughtered—had been arrested under suspicion of driving while intoxicated (DWI). Theriot reportedly failed multiple field sobriety tests, and the website alleged she tried to cover up the smell of alcohol with a strong perfume or cologne.
Public figures arrested for DWI need an expert attorney right away.
According to the article, Theriot gave at least two different versions of the facts relating to her alcohol use to the police. Even if the police have reasonable suspicion to stop a driver, a driver is under no obligation to give them any information relating to the traffic stop. Instead, all a driver has to answer is to politely say, “I want my lawyer.” Upon hearing this, the police must stop asking you questions. That is important, not only in terms of limiting the evidence against you, but it also reduces the amount of information in the arrest record—which could be used in news articles or gossip columns.
It is possible to defeat a DWI charge and win in court, but public figures may have other considerations to take into account that will impact a defense strategy.
For example, a trial will take longer than a guilty plea, and the duration would keep them—and the allegations—in the news. That might mean that a defense attorney would be looking for more factors that could sway a prosecutor for a quick resolution in a plea agreement. On the other hand, public figures may want a public trial, so their fans can hear their side of the story.
And contracts for television shows, product endorsements, and other deals that relate to one's celebrity may contain “morals clauses,” which mean they can lose work if they've been involved in a scandal. Celebrities with these contracts may need a full dismissal or exoneration, which may also complicate decisions relating to a plea agreement or trial.
Beyond the trial's impact, the administration of the case and trial proceedings can also pose special issues for public figures.
For instance, press coverage about the case could be seen by potential jurors. Depending on the amount of coverage, a lawyer may want to devote a portion of voir dire—the process for screening jurors—to learning about potential jurors' awareness of their client and the case. A defense attorney will want to screen out any jurors who have already made an adverse decision about the case based on the celebrity's reputation rather than the facts. The defense counsel will also be looking out for any jurors who might be willing to leak information to the press or promote their own celebrity due to their role as jurors.
During trial, counsel may also request that the judge seal documents, prohibit parties from speaking to the press, or limit access to the court if there are concerns that the press or public's presence might impact the proceedings. While not required, defense attorneys may also consider how their own press statements could help or hurt their case—both within the context of the litigation and any subsequent impact on their client.
With 20 years of experience, Houston DWI specialist Doug Murphy is one of only two attorneys in the state of Texas who is Board Certified in both Criminal Law and DWI Defense. A national expert on DWI litigation, he regularly teaches other attorneys how to handle these cases. Year-after-year, he is heralded as being one of US News & World Report's Best Lawyers in America for 2021.
If you are facing DWI charges in Texas, contact Doug Murphy’s office today to discuss your case and begin working on your defense.