Fighting a Texas Felony DWI Charge While Also Facing a Related Civil Lawsuit for Liability

Arrest on any Texas DWI charge, whether it's a first or subsequent offense, is a serious and disturbing event. You know that you'll face significant risks and challenges. You also know that you will need skilled Texas DWI Specialist defense. Arrest on a felony DWI charge magnifies those legal, personal, and professional risks. In that case, you know you and your retained DWI Specialist will need to be especially committed to managing and minimizing those legal, personal, and professional risks.

But facing a Texas felony DWI charge while also facing a civil lawsuit over a death or personal injury that your Texas DWI accident caused takes your issues to another level. Defending your criminal DWI charge in criminal court proceedings while simultaneously defending your civil liability in civil court proceedings requires skilled coordination of your two separate defenses. Retain 2023 Best Lawyers in America Houston DWI Defense Lawyer of the Year Doug Murphy for the best possible outcome to your felony DWI charge. A successful DWI charge defense can go a long way toward reducing or eliminating your civil liability.

Texas Felony DWI Charges Involving Death or Injury

Texas DWI charges often involve no death or injury. In the ordinary case, an officer pulls a driver over for some infraction, observes signs of intoxication, and investigates and pursues the DWI charge. Felony DWI charges for causing death or injury typically arise out of motor vehicle accidents. Police respond to the accident scene, observe signs of driver intoxication, and investigate and charge a felony DWI based on both intoxicated driving and intoxicated driving causing the death or injury. Texas law authorizes two felony DWI charges for DWI accidents where the intoxicated driving caused death or injury.

Intoxication Manslaughter

Intoxication manslaughter is the Texas felony DWI charge for intoxicated driving where the intoxication causes death. You may think of manslaughter as a homicide crime. It is. Texas Penal Code Section 19.04 defines manslaughter as acting recklessly when “aware of but consciously disregard[ing] a substantial and unjustifiable risk” of causing death. Texas Penal Code Section 6.03 further defines recklessness as “a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor's standpoint.” Manslaughter is a serious crime unto itself, a second-degree felony carrying a sentence of two to twenty years and up to a $10,000 fine. When the recklessness is unlawful DWI intoxication causing the death, then Texas Penal Code Section 49.08 calls the crime intoxication manslaughter. You won't, in other words, just face civil liability for causing another's death in the DWI accident. You'll also face a felony DWI charge called intoxication manslaughter.

Intoxication Assault

Intoxication assault is the Texas felony DWI charge for intoxicated driving where the intoxication causes serious bodily injury to another. Texas Penal Code Section 49.07 defines serious bodily injury as one that “creates a substantial risk of death or that causes serious permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.” The same statute makes intoxication assault a third-degree felony, not quite so serious as intoxication manslaughter's second-degree. Third-degree intoxication assault carries a penalty of two to ten years, not two to twenty years as for intoxication manslaughter. But injury to a peace officer, firefighter, or emergency medical personnel in the line of duty, or injury resulting in a persistent vegetative state, elevates intoxication assault to a second-degree felony. Intoxication assault can thus be just as serious a crime as intoxication manslaughter. And the serious bodily injury may result in civil liability just as extensive, or nearly as extensive, as the civil liability for DWI-caused death.

Texas Civil Liability for DWI-Related Death or Injury

Motor vehicle accidents triggering the above two Texas felony DWI crime charges can also lead to civil liability for the deaths or injuries. Texas law recognizes civil liability for motor vehicle accident deaths and injuries a driver's negligence causes. Texas is not a motor vehicle no-fault state. Driver fault or negligence in operating a motor vehicle in Texas can lead to civil liability when the fault causes death or injury. Under Texas Civil Code Section 33.001, the negligent driver must pay damages as long as the injured or deceased person's fault is not greater than the fault of the careless driver. Civil liability means that the at-fault intoxicated driver must pay the damages flowing from the death or injury. Those damages include not only medical expenses and lost work income but also pain and suffering. In the case of a death, Texas's wrongful death act authorizes recoveries of lost financial support and household services, and love, society, and companionship for the decedent's spouse, children, and parents. Forget for a moment the felony DWI charges. Intoxicated drivers causing death or serious injury can face very large financial obligations to pay damages. And the owner of the motor vehicle may well share that liability.

The Role of Motor Vehicle Liability Insurance

Most vehicle owners and drivers don't have substantial cash assets to pay the large civil liability settlements and awards typical for motor vehicle accident death and injury cases. Civil liability would bankrupt many drivers and vehicle owners, if it were not for motor vehicle liability insurance. Texas law requires motor vehicle owners to maintain liability insurance to pay settlements and awards. Insurance pays most motor vehicle accident civil liability. But Texas law only requires insurance up to $30,000 per injured person and $60,000 per accident. Vehicle owners can insure for much more, like $1 million or even more than that amount, especially for commercially owned vehicles. Yet many vehicle owners have only the minimum coverage. When a jury awards damages exceeding the liability coverage, the plaintiff may collect the excess from the liable defendant driver or vehicle owner. And given the large awards, drivers and vehicle owners can face excess liability even when having a lot of insurance. The bottom line is always that you might pay, your insurer might pay, you both might pay, and you both might not. Felony DWI accidents causing death or injury create enormous financial uncertainty for the involved driver and the vehicle owner.

Relationship of Criminal DWI Charges to Civil Liability Cases

So what exactly is the relationship between criminal DWI charges to civil liability? Civil liability in a DWI-related motor vehicle accident does not depend on the criminal DWI charge. Nor does the criminal DWI charge depend on civil liability. Each proceeding, one criminal and one civil, may go on with or without the other. When the intoxicated driver does face both criminal and civil proceedings, they are in different cases on different procedural tracks, generally (although not always) in different courts before different judges. But despite their separate cases and tracks, the criminal DWI proceeding can influence the civil liability proceeding. And actions and outcomes in the civil case could influence the criminal DWI case. That's why you need a skilled and experienced Texas DWI Specialist to defend your felony DWI charge.

How Ineffective DWI Defense Can Worsen Civil Liability

First, consider the criminal DWI proceeding. Anything that you say in your felony DWI intoxication manslaughter or intoxication assault case can and will be used against you in the civil case for your liability. You might, for instance, unwisely make incriminating admissions to the officer at the accident scene, to hospital personnel when taken for a DWI blood draw, or to officers at the station when booked on DWI charges. The plaintiff's attorney in the civil case will work hard to discover those statements to use against you in the civil case. Likewise, if you enter a guilty plea to a DWI crime or even to a reduced charge, tending to show your recklessness or carelessness, your guilty plea can mean that you've just lost the civil case's liability defense. No contest pleas to criminal charges, on the other hand, are generally inadmissible in the civil proceeding to establish your civil liability, although statements you make around that plea may still be admissible against you in the civil case. In short, a poor or sloppy criminal DWI defense can definitely compromise or even lose your civil liability case.

How Effective DWI Defense Can Improve Civil Liability

Yet the opposite is also true: your experienced Texas DWI Specialist's skilled defense of your felony DWI charges may significantly improve your position in the civil case. You may have any one or more of several intoxication assault defenses, much like the available intoxication manslaughter defenses. Beating your felony DWI charge alone can go a long way toward a better defense of your civil liability case. An acquittal on DWI charges is far better for your civil case than a conviction. But your DWI Specialist's skillful proof of one or more of these specific DWI defenses could especially turn the tide in your favor in your civil case:

Causation as a Criminal DWI and Civil Liability Defense

The prosecutor on a felony DWI intoxication assault or intoxication manslaughter charge must prove causation. Causation generally requires the prosecutor to show that, but for the defendant's intoxication, no injury or death would have resulted. The intoxication must have been a cause, perhaps along with other causes, but nonetheless, a substantial cause of the death or injury. If you prevail in your criminal case on a causation defense, you will have shown that your intoxication made no difference in the outcome. The death or injury would have resulted anyway, perhaps due to a different driver's negligence or an unavoidable accident. Causation is also an element in the civil case—that the defendant driver's negligence must have caused the death or injury. Winning on causation in the criminal case can show the civil case plaintiff and their attorney that they have an uphill battle proving causation in the civil case.

Inaccurate Intoxicant Testing as a Criminal DWI and Civil Liability Defense

Inaccurate intoxicant testing is another defense in the felony DWI case that can influence the outcome of the civil liability case. If your Texas DWI Specialist attorney's skill convinces the judge that your blood alcohol or drug test results are inadmissible or the jury that they are unreliable because of improper administration or interpretation of the test, improper calibration of testing devices, or similar reasons, then those test results may also be inadmissible or unreliable in your civil case. Negligence proofs in your civil liability case do not necessarily depend on a certain level of intoxication. But getting intoxication test results thrown out or ignored can go a long way toward a successful civil liability defense.

Civil Proceedings Can Affect DWI Charges, Too

Just as your felony DWI proceedings can affect your civil liability for motor vehicle accident death or injury, your civil liability proceedings can affect your felony DWI proceedings. If, for instance, you give a deposition or testify in court in your civil case before your DWI criminal case resolves, prosecutors can and will use against you anything you say in the civil case. You have no privilege against self-incrimination in a civil case. The factfinder in your civil case could infer or presume from your refusal to testify in the civil case that anything truthful you would have said would have worked against you. You are, in that sense, between a rock and a hard place when deciding whether to testify in a civil case with related criminal charges pending. Likewise, if you settle your civil case admitting intoxication, causation, and death or serious injury, the prosecutor may be able to use those admissions against you in the criminal case. These questions and other similar questions mean that the Texas DWI Specialist whom you retain to defend your felony DWI charges must ensure that you and your civil attorney don't say or do something inculpatory in the civil case.

Separate Representation for DWI Criminal and Civil Cases

If the above discussion hasn't already made it clear, then you should understand that you will have separate representation in your Texas felony DWI criminal case and your related civil liability case. One defense attorney will represent you in your criminal proceeding, and a different attorney will represent you in your civil proceeding. In such a serious felony DWI criminal case, indeed in any DWI case, because DWI charges are always serious, you should retain a skilled and experienced Board Certified DWI Specialist. DWI Specialists are much more than simply criminal defense attorneys. DWI Specialists have special knowledge and skills related to the highly technical defense of DWI charges, on things like testing administration protocols, laboratory errors, metabolic, atmospheric and other effects, instrument calibration, breaks in the chain of evidence, preservation of specimens, and interpretation of results. Civil defense attorneys don't generally have anything like that knowledge or those skills. Your civil defense attorney, utterly unqualified to defend your felony DWI charge, shouldn't be defending you in that criminal case.

Insurance Attorney Defense in the Civil Lawsuit

You will also have separate representation in your criminal DWI proceeding and your civil liability case because of who hires and pays those different attorneys. Unless you are indigent, in which case the court will appoint a public defender for your defense, you will otherwise retain your own Texas DWI Specialist. You will make your own choice of criminal defense attorneys. But if motor vehicle insurance covers your DWI accident liability, then that insurer is likely to choose, hire, and pay for your civil case's defense. Insurance agreements typically require the insurer both to indemnify, meaning to pay for any loss, and to defend, meaning to hire and pay the attorney who defends you. Insurers want to hire and pay their own insurance defense attorneys because the insurer's money is at stake. So, unless you are without insurance coverage for the alleged civil liability from your DWI accident, you'll very likely have an attorney. One hopes that the insurance defense attorney is sufficiently skilled and experienced to provide you with an effective liability defense while coordinating that defense with your DWI Specialist's defense of your felony DWI charges.

Retaining a Civil Liability Defense Attorney

If you are not insured for the civil liability relating to your DWI accident, then you won't have an insurance company hiring and paying your civil defense attorney. You will need to choose your own civil defense attorney. But even if you do have insurance for your DWI accident civil liability, you may need to hire, or benefit from hiring, your own civil defense attorney. Your insurer may have the contractual right to pay its liability limits, especially if those limits are very low relative to the potential damages, without settling the civil case, leaving you on your own to defend and pay for the rest of those damages. But even if the insurer continues to provide a defense, your excess liability over the insurance limits may be so great that you should hire your own attorney to be sure your insurer doesn't just give away the civil case, having so relatively little at stake. In those cases, you may need to hire your own civil defense attorney. And if that's your situation, be sure to hire a skilled civil defense attorney who will coordinate your civil defense with your Texas DWI Specialist's defense of your criminal case.

Coordinating DWI Criminal and Civil Defenses

You should now see just how critical to your felony DWI defense it is that your DWI Specialist attorney coordinates your criminal defense with your civil defense attorney's defense of the civil liability case, and vice versa. It is possible that your two different attorneys, one for the criminal case and one for the civil case, will somehow do exactly what the other case requires without communicating with the other attorney in that case. Skilled and experienced lawyers can be good at knowing what's probably going on in other cases that could affect their client's interests. But coordination of defenses in related criminal and civil cases typically benefits from communication between the two attorneys. What your attorney doesn't know could hurt you. Yet that's just one example. Here's a longer list of the kinds of things that your attorneys may do for your best defense in both proceedings:

● share the court schedule in each case so that each attorney can see what the other case may involve or require that could affect that attorney's case defense;

● share the defenses that the attorney is raising on your behalf so that the other attorney can raise the same or similar defenses;

● share the evidence that the attorney discovers so that the other attorney can use or is aware of the same evidence;

● share the evidence that the attorney needs for defense so that the other attorney can help the attorney seek or acquire that evidence;

● share what the attorney knows must not happen in the other case, like depositions, pleas, or settlements, if the attorney is to effectively defend the attorney's case;

● retain the same or similarly qualified defense expert witnesses, whether accident reconstructionists, toxicologists, or medical examiners;

● coordinate interviews and statements of defense lay witnesses, so that the defense in each case does not burden, annoy, confuse, or harass lay witnesses;

● share strategic approaches and planned steps before executing them, to ensure that they positively rather than negatively affect the other cases' defense.

Your Personal Stakes in the Criminal and Civil Proceedings

Your personal stakes when facing Texas felony DWI charges and related civil liability reinforce your need for skilled and coordinated attorney defense. The potential for long-term incarceration and a significant fine in your felony DWI case, and for substantial financial liability in excess of any insurance in the civil case, are your most-obvious personal stakes. Your skilled and experienced defense attorneys will help you evaluate, fight, defend, and manage those consequences as best you can. But for the very best outcome of both proceedings, you and your defense attorneys should also be considering and managing your potential collateral consequences. You might think that jail, fine, and liability are your big stakes, and they could well be. But even if you and your defense attorneys manage those risks well, to the point of avoiding or minimizing jail while keeping liability within insurance limits, you could still suffer serious collateral consequences. Don't win a few battles but lose the war. Be sure that you and your defense attorneys in both proceedings are considering and managing these risks:

● above all, the potential effect of the felony DWI charges and civil liability on your child custody and other family rights and interests, to ensure that you can care for your children and family;

● the effect of the DWI charges on your driver's license, and your need to request an ALR hearing or pursue other relief to preserve your driving privileges;

● the effect of the DWI charges and civil liability on your business or professional license, vocational certification, firearms license, security clearance, or other license;

● the effect of the DWI charges on your domestic or international travel and on your visa and immigration status; and

● your ability to manage your household, job, career, finances, and other affairs, as well as maintain your mental and physical health while reassuring your dependents.

Texas DWI Specialist for Felony DWI Charges with Civil Liability

Retaining a Board Certified DWI Specialist is always your best move in any kind of DWI case. But retaining a skilled and experienced DWI Specialist is critical in felony DWI cases with related civil liability proceedings. The ins and outs of such cases are just too complex for an ordinary criminal defense attorney to navigate, without having the experience to know the various effects steps taken or not taken in either the criminal or civil case can have on the other case. These twin proceedings differ so greatly but yet affect one another so much, and include so many variables, that you need the best possible defense. And the best possible criminal DWI defense will only come from a Board Certified DWI Specialist. Indeed, for intoxication assault and intoxication manslaughter charges, you would benefit most from a skilled and experienced attorney having both DWI Specialist and Criminal Law Specialist board certifications.

Premier Houston DWI Specialist for Felony DWI Charges

Retain Texas DWI Specialist attorney Doug Murphy for your defense of a Texas felony DWI charge in which you also face a civil lawsuit for the DWI accident's death or personal injury. Attorney Murphy is one of only two Texas attorneys holding both DWI Specialist Board Certification and Criminal Law Board Certification. Houston area lawyers voted attorney Murphy the Best Lawyers in America 2021 and 2023 Houston Lawyer of the Year for DWI Defense. You know you can trust attorney Murphy's expertise because he also lectures to lawyers and judges nationwide on DWI defense. For the best available Texas DWI Specialist, call (713) 229-8333 or go online now.

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