Despite endless persuasion campaigns pushing Houston residents to avoid driving while intoxicated, the number of arrests for DWI have soared in recent years. According to the Harris County Sheriff's Office, more than 10,500 people were arrested under suspicion of DWI in Harris County during the first eight months of 2019 alone. If that sounds like a lot, that is because those numbers are much higher than the prior year.
According to the Harris County Sheriff's Office, the area has seen an increase by approximately 74 percent compared to the number of arrests in the first part of 2018. It is worth noting that 2018 was not a low mark either. In the final week of 2018, nearly 350 people were charged with DWI.
While the number of arrests is fairly easy to track, it is less clear how many of these arrests are wrongful. After all, not all DWI arrests result in a formal charge. In other instances, DWI charges are dismissed by the prosecutor or rejected at trial by a jury. So, how many of these arrests are false?
Frequency of False DWI Arrests
According to statistics compiled by the FBI, there are more than 10 million arrests each year. That works out to one arrest in the United States every three seconds. Unfortunately, the court systems throughout the country are far less apt to provide data than law enforcement agencies. Because of this, there is little information on the results of these cases.
Generally speaking, the vast majority of DWI arrests across the country result in a conviction. In some jurisdictions, the conviction rate is as much as 90 percent. That means only one out of every DWI arrest ends in an acquittal or dismissal. The problem with false arrests, however, is that many of them end in a plea bargain or guilty verdict.
The difficulty in identifying or tracking false arrests only perpetuates the problem. Because it is difficult outside of the perfect situation to identify a false arrest, having an accurate count of how often they occur in Houston DWI cases is impossible. Despite the high conviction rate, it is worth noting that there would likely be far more dismissals and acquittals based on false arrests if more defendants had access to strong legal counsel. A defense attorney could be the difference between a false conviction and leaving the courthouse free and clear.
How Wrongful DWI Arrests Happen in Houston, TX
There are countless ways in which a driver could face arrest for DWI despite not being under the influence. Some cases boil down to mistaken identity. For example, police might not believe your story that your sober friend was the person actually driving your car when an accident occurred. While seemingly far-fetched, these sorts of factual errors occur every day in police investigations.
Another common cause of a false DWI arrest is inaccurate field sobriety tests. These “tests” are pseudo-science designed for drivers taking them to fail. They are highly subjective, and there are countless valid reasons that could trigger a failure. For example, medical conditions can often result in a failed test; these conditions could include:
- Knee problems
- Foot injury
- Brain injury
- Speech impediments
- Hearing difficulty
- Poor circulation
- Back problems
- Ear and balance issues, or
- Recent surgery.
A failed field sobriety test is often enough for an officer to make an arrest. When these test results are faulty, the entire arrest comes into question.
There are other, darker, reasons for wrongful arrests. In some cases, police officers willfully arrest people on charges of DWI despite the knowledge or belief that they were not intoxicated at the time. One of the most eye-opening examples of this occurred in Chicago in the mid-2000s. On June 6, 2008, the public learned that Chicago police officer Richard Fiorito had falsely arrested more than 130 people for DWI in the previous two years. Fiorito – who ultimately resigned from the police force in disgrace – made approximately one DWI arrest per day over the course of nearly two years. This absurd arrest rate led to widespread recognition from law enforcement groups and DWI prevention advocates like MAAD.
The sad reality of these cases is that many of those falsely arrested plead guilty to a lesser charge. Drivers that were falsely charged opted to take a plea agreement to a lesser charge and avoid the risk of a DWI conviction, despite doing nothing wrong. These circumstances made it even more difficult to detect what Fiorito was doing. In the end, police determined that his streak of false arrests was little more than a ploy to obtain overtime pay for all of his court appearances.
While this is an extreme example, it should serve as a warning to anyone facing a wrongful DWI charge. Simply being innocent of the charges is not enough to avoid a conviction in some cases. Without the help of an experienced Houston DWI attorney, the wrongfully accused could find themselves convicted of a crime they did not commit.
Contact a Houston DWI Defense Attorney Immediately
False arrests can occur when police make a mistake, when their training is inadequate, or when they place their personal interests before that of the public. Ideally, a person's innocence would be enough to ensure they prevail at trial on these false charges. In reality, many courts are willing to overlook unusual circumstances and inconsistencies to take the word of the arresting officer over yours. To avoid a wrongful conviction, it is crucial to put on the strongest defense available. In many cases, the right defense attorney could be the difference between a conviction and an acquittal.
If you are facing DWI charges in Houston, attorney Doug Murphy could help you build a winning defense in your case. An experienced defense attorney with Board Certification in both DWI defense and criminal law, Doug Murphy has won acquittals in DWI cases throughout the greater Houston area. Taking on your defense in a DWI case by yourself is a mistake you can't afford to make. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. right away to set up a free consultation.