The national story broke in November 2020 that local police in Travis County, Texas, had arrested twenty-five-year-old Dillon Passage, husband of the imprisoned Netflix Tiger King television star Joe Exotic, on a DWI charge. Passage is himself something of a celebrity, having appeared on Tiger King and in tabloid media, and having well over one-hundred-thousand Instagram followers.
Ordinarily, a DWI arrest is not especially newsworthy, given the nearly one-hundred-thousand such crimes Texas prosecutors charge annually, according to Texas Department of Public Safety crime records. But crime charges of almost any kind quickly become entertainment news when the defendant is even a minor celebrity. And when the celebrity's arrest is notorious for other reasons, as authorities allege in the DWI arrest of Dillon Passage, the event becomes even more newsworthy.
What Not to Do in a DWI Arrest
According to one Texas news report, Dillon Passage allegedly tried to impress police at the arrest scene with his celebrity, telling them of his marriage to the famed Joe Exotic, whose bizarre activities Tiger King documents. Joe Exotic is especially notorious after sensational media reports of his attempted-murder-for-hire conviction relating to his Tiger King nemesis, animal-rights activist Carole Baskin.
As to Passage's DWI charge, media also reports that Manor, Texas police arrested Passage well after midnight for allegedly driving with his vehicle's rear lights off, seeking the DWI charge on the alleged basis of Passage's red eyes, slurred speech, and an admission that he was a bit intoxicated from a few beers. The report further alleges that Passage was confused as to the time and his location, believing himself to be in a town sixty miles north of Manor.
Celebrity, though, is no defense to a DWI charge, as Manor police felt compelled to make clear. Media reports that the Manor Police Department released a statement relating to Passage's arrest that the Department treats all persons fairly “regardless of social status.”
When Celebrities Face Charges
Celebrities, indeed all those recognizable to the public, face special challenges when charged with crimes like a Texas DWI. Citizens elect the Texas county district attorneys who prosecute DWI charges, including Travis County's district attorney. Election keeps district attorneys accountable to the public. When a district attorney's charge of a celebrity makes the news, the public scrutiny may limit a district attorney's willingness to exercise prosecutorial discretion.
Put simply, one role of criminal law is to make examples of wrongdoers in order to discourage other wrongdoing. Not every crime gets prosecuted to the law's full extent. Rather, prosecutors wield discretionary power to pursue or not to pursue various criminal charges, depending on the goals of punishment, protection of the public, and rehabilitation. A celebrity case hands a local prosecutor an opportunity to teach a highly public lesson by making an example of the celebrity's conviction and punishment.
Getting Sensitive Representation
Premier criminal-defense lawyers who have experience representing the famous, like 2021 Houston DWI Lawyer of the Year Doug Murphy, can help celebrity clients facing DWI charges manage public perception. See here more about how effective defense counsel can help win a DWI case. Prosecutors need not and should not railroad celebrity offenders, who instead deserve the same fair treatment as other offenders. The key for celebrities, as for anyone, is to know your DWI rights.
As a Board Certified DWI specialist and one of only two Texas lawyers holding both DWI Board Certification and Criminal Law Certification, Doug Murphy has the experience, skill, and sensitivity to help all DWI defendants, including celebrities. Contact 2021 Lawyer of the Year Doug Murphy online or at (713) 229-8333 to discuss your case today, whether your case is of public interest or not. Trust Texas DWI attorney Doug Murphy with your DWI defense.