Five Common Mistake the Police Make in Houston DWI Cases

If you have been arrested in Houston for a charge of driving while intoxicated, you may feel like you have no choice but to plead guilty and just hope for leniency. The prosecutor in your case handles these cases for a living and has the full weight of the State of Texas behind him.

It's important to note, however, that Houston DWI cases can be won. And a major reason that DWI cases are so defensible is your arresting officers. Police officers are human and like the rest of us, they make mistakes. However, mistakes made during the course of a DWI investigation can have enormous consequences. DWI is a subjective opinion crime and the whole case rests on the subjective opinion of the arresting officer. Mistakes made by police officers undermine their opinion and jurors, judges and prosecutors consequently give the arresting officer's opinion much less weight, if any at all. It's possible that a mistake made by a police officer could render evidence against you unreliable. In some cases, it's possible that a mistake by an arresting officer could lead to a false accusation of intoxication. That's why holding the police responsible for doing their job correctly is one of the primary tasks of a Houston DWI lawyer.

If you have been charged with a DWI in the Houston metropolitan area and would like for the circumstances of your case to be reviewed by an experienced and board certified DWI defense lawyer, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. Attorney Doug Murphy has the experience necessary to ensure you were treated fairly by law enforcement and that the evidence against you wasn't tainted.

The Top 5 Most Frequent Mistakes Made by Police in a Houston DWI Case

When it comes to the potential mistakes an officer can make during your DWI case, there are too many to list. But out of all of the possibilities, five mistakes stand out. If the police made these mistakes in your case, it is possible your attorney could have the evidence against you excluded from your trial. In some cases, your case could be dismissed entirely.

#1 Unlawful Traffic Stop

Arguably the most common mistake an officer can make that ultimately leads to an acquittal or a dismissal is through initiating an illegal traffic stop. Law enforcement can't simply stop your car on a hunch. The officer must have what's known as reasonable suspicion that you have committed a traffic violation or other crime before pulling you over. Reasonable suspicion must involve more than just a hunch; the officer must be able to point to specific conduct that led to the reason for pulling you over in the first place. If a police officer pulls you over without reasonable suspicion, your constitutional rights have been violated.

If the underlying traffic stop in your Houston DWI case was illegal, your attorney may be able to exclude any evidence collected during the course of the stop from your trial. That can include anything from an admission you had been drinking to the results of a chemical test you submitted to. One of the first things your Houston DWI attorney will do during your initial consultation is to review the police report in your case to determine the circumstances of your traffic stop.

#2 Improperly Conducted Field Sobriety Tests

Another common mistake officers make involves incorrectly conducting the standardized field sobriety tests. The standardized field sobriety tests include three well-known exercises:

  1. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)
  2. The Walk and Turn
  3. The One-Leg Stand.

HGN Test

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus is recognizable as the test where the officer will have you slowly follow an object with your vision from side to the other without moving your head. The purpose of this test is to allow for the officer to look for nystagmus, which is an involuntary jerking in your eyes that is made more pronounced when consuming alcohol.

The Walk & Turn Test

The walk and turn involves walking in a straight line at the direction of the officer for nine steps, heel to toe. The officer will then instruct you to turn in place and walk nine steps back to where you began. During the test, the officer will watch for any loss of balance, failure to follow directions, or stepping off the line.

One-Leg Stand Test

The one-leg stand is a divided attention test that involves you listening to the instructions of the officer and then balance on one leg for 30 seconds. The officer will time you and observe for any swaying, using your arms to balance, hopping, or putting your foot down.

Challenges to Field Sobriety Tests

Unfortunately, the value of these tests as evidence of intoxication is disputed in the best of circumstances. But when performed incorrectly, field sobriety tests are entirely unreliable. Your defense attorney will review your case to ensure that any standardized field sobriety tests given in your case were administered properly. There are a variety of mistakes that an officer can make that render these tests inaccurate, including but not limited to:

  • Moving too fast or too slow during the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test
  • Improperly demonstrating the walk and turn
  • Conducting the tests in a poorly lit area
  • Conducting the tests on uneven ground.

Not only will your Houston DWI attorney review your case for errors, but they will also consider other factors that could have led to false positives during field sobriety tests including fatigue, injury, inner ear problems, and anxiety. It's also worth noting that unlike breath tests, field sobriety tests are mandatory, so it is never a good idea to agree to submit to them.

#3 Improperly Conducted Chemical Tests

Another major mistake that law enforcement frequently makes in DWI cases relate to chemical tests. These tests include breath, blood, or urine samples collected to measure your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). It's important to note that mistakes during the collection of your sample can taint it and lead to false positives or unreliable results.

The first major mistake law enforcement can make during the collection of your breath sample is by failing to properly maintain the breathalyzer. Breath test machines are sensitive by design, and a failure to maintain and calibrate them properly can lead to false positive results. There are strict maintenance guidelines that must be followed for each breathalyzer machine; failing to follow those guidelines could render test results unreliable.

The second major mistake law enforcement can make during the collection of your breath sample is by administering the test incorrectly. First and foremost, an officer must be certified to use the breathalyzer equipment. If the officer is not certified, or if the certification has expired, the test result is effectively rendered unreliable and cannot be used in court. There are other mistakes that officers can make when collecting breath test results. These include improperly cleaning the breathalyzer mouthpiece, failing to wait 15 minutes before administering the test, or failing to ensure that the external standard check results fall within an acceptable range.

Any of these errors could be grounds for your attorney to exclude the results of the tests, and the same errors also apply to blood and urine samples and test results.

#4 Failure to Follow Implied Consent Requirements

When you drive on public roads in the State of Texas, there is a presumption that you agree to follow the rules of the road. One of those rules is that you have given implied consent to submit to chemical testing if an officer suspects you of drunken driving.

That doesn't mean you are forced to give a sample, however. But there are legal ramifications if you do refuse. That's why Texas law requires the officer to read you with required warnings regarding the consequences of refusing a chemical test. The implied consent warnings are designed to inform you that the act of refusal itself can be used against you in court and that a refusal can lead to the suspension of your driver's license.

It is mandatory that law enforcement provide you with the implied consent warnings before you are asked to submit a sample. Failing to do so can be grounds for excluding the results of the test from trial. One of the things your attorney will do is seek all relevant information regarding your case from the prosecuting attorney. That will include whether or not you signed a form indicating you understood your implied consent rights.

#5 Failing to Properly Document Investigation

Another mistake an officer can make is failing to properly document your arrest and the subsequent investigation. When the officer testifies against you in court, he or she is required to do so from his or her own memory. While an officer can refresh his or her recollection by looking over notes, he or she cannot simply read from a script. This can be further complicated if the officer failed to keep their original investigation notes or completed their police report by simply copying and pasting text from other arrest reports.

Hiring the Best DWI Attorney in Houston

If the officer in your Houston DWI case made a mistake, you may have a solid defense. But it takes an experienced Houston DWI attorney to build that defense and achieve the outcome you were hoping for. If you need an experienced DWI defense lawyer in Houston, Texas, contact Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C.

Attorney Doug Murphy is a Board Certified expert in both DWI defense law and criminal defense law. In fact, he is one of only two attorneys in the State of Texas with that distinction. To discuss your case with one of Houston's best DWI attorney, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. for a free consultation.

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If you are facing DWI or other criminal charges in Texas, contact our office today to discuss your case, so we can begin working on your defense. Please provide only your personal email and cell phone number so that we can immediately and confidentially communicate with you.