National media recently reported an allegedly drunken driver injuring an off-duty police officer in a vehicle crash. Few drunk-driving incidents make national media. But the injured officer just happens to moonlight as a film actor. And he also just happened to be running for mayor of the town where the crash occurred. Sometimes, truth is more interesting than fiction, real life more interesting than art. The story also illustrates two significant issues that can arise relating to a DWI arrest. One issue has to do with the field sobriety tests on which authorities in the above story charged the driver with a DWI. The other issue has to do with the fact that the injured party was a police officer.
When Should I Expect a Field Sobriety Test?
In the above story, authorities charged the driver with a DWI when she failed field sobriety tests after her discharge from the hospital. Officers use field sobriety tests like walking a line, touching the nose with eyes closed, or balancing on one foot, for evidence of intoxication. Officers having reasonable suspicion to make an investigatory stop will observe the driver as they request license and insurance. If they smell alcohol, hear slurred speech, notice unsteady gaze, or have other indications of intoxication, then they may request a field sobriety test. Expect a request once officers notice something suspicious. You need not comply with a request, but refusing a field sobriety test won't stop your DWI arrest.
Does the Officer Being Off or On Duty Matter?
Does it matter that the injured officer in the above story was off duty rather than on duty? In some cases yes, while in other cases no. Injuring anyone in a vehicle crash while operating the vehicle intoxicated is a serious crime, known in Texas as intoxication assault. Texas law enhances that intoxication assault charge if the injured person is a peace officer, as Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 2.12 defines. Peace officers include both on-duty and off-duty police officers. Thus, if the DWI injured a peace officer, the crime goes from a misdemeanor to a second-degree felony. A second-degree felony can involve a fine of up to $10,000 and a prison sentence of between two and twenty years, along with community service and other sanctions.
Obviously, you don't want to injure anyone in a drunk-driving accident. But injuring an on-duty or off-duty police officer brings greater sanctions. In that case, it doesn't matter whether the officer is on duty or off duty. Yet in another instance, whether the officer is on duty or off duty does matter. Intentionally injuring one whom the defendant knows is an on-duty police officer attempting to perform an official duty is a serious Texas crime. Texas punishes assault on a police officer in effect as a hate crime.
How would these laws play out in the above story? The allegedly intoxicated driver in the above story didn't know her vehicle was colliding with an off-duty officer's vehicle. She may have committed a crime akin to intoxication assault, and if she did, then Texas law would have enhanced that crime from a misdemeanor to a felony because of the injury to a police officer. But the above story in no way suggests that the driver intended any injury or knew the other driver was a police officer. The driver did not commit the more serious offense of assault on a police officer.
Retain Expert Representation for Your DWI Defense
Injuring another person in a vehicle crash while driving intoxicated is a serious DWI crime. The crime can be significantly worse if the driver intended to injure a police officer to obstruct the officer's performance of a duty. If you or someone you know faces such serious DWI or assault charges, then retain Board Certified DWI Specialist Doug Murphy to raise and aggressively advocate your every possible defense. As the 2021 Houston DWI Lawyer of the Year, attorney Murphy knows how to defend serious DWI charges. Attorney Murphy is one of only two Texas lawyers holding both DWI Board Certification and Criminal Law Certification. Contact Doug Murphy Law Firm online or at (713) 229-8333 to discuss your case today.