Everyone charged with a crime deserves their day in court. It is the opportunity to defend yourself and be heard by a jury of your peers. But in a Texas courtroom, rules of evidence determine what a jury can and can't see. Choosing what evidence to introduce and challenging the evidence of the State are two of the most important jobs a DWI defense attorney has. Attorney Doug Murphy approaches every client's DWI case with a jury trial in mind. If you have been arrested for a DWI in Texas, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm to discuss your case with Houston's top DWI defense attorney.
Texas DWI Law
According to the Texas Penal Code, “A person commits an offense if the person is intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place.” The term “intoxicated” Helpfully, the code also defines the word. According to the code, intoxication means:
- not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body; or
- having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.
The definition of intoxication is two-pronged, which gives the prosecutor a choice of how to build their case. The state only needs to convince a jury that your blood alcohol concentration was .08 at the time of driving or that you did not have your normal faculties due to a substance you ingested. The evidence that will be used against you at trial will depend on which theory the prosecutor pursues. If you consented to a chemical test, much of the evidence and testimony will revolve around the nature and results of your blood, breath, or urine test. If you did not submit to chemical testing, the evidence against you will skew towards proving to show that alcohol or drugs caused you to lose your normal faculties while driving.
Burden of Proof in Texas DWI Cases
The State of Texas has the burden of proving that you are guilty of driving while intoxicated beyond a reasonable doubt. If, after the State has produced all of its evidence, a jury does not feel they have met that burden then you will be acquitted of the DWI charge. Sounds simple, right? Despite it seeming straightforward on the surface, defending against a DWI charge is anything but passive. Your DWI defense attorney may take different approaches to different pieces of evidence, including:
Challenging the accuracy of the State's Evidence: Your attorney may be able to discredit the testimony of an eyewitness against you or show a jury that a chemical test was not properly conducted.
Presenting alternative evidence: This can include testimony that directly combats the allegation that you were intoxicated, such as testimony that you did not drink that night.
Seeking to exclude the use of evidence entirely: If evidence was collected illegally or improperly, your defense attorney may be able to convince the judge to suppress it altogether.
Types of Evidence in a Texas DWI Trial
There is no bright line for whether the evidence presented by a prosecutor is sufficient for a conviction for DWI. Every case, and importantly, ever jury, is different. Two different juries may come to completely different conclusions based on the same evidence. That's why it is so important to have a veteran trial attorney representing you. Every piece of evidence at trial matters and an experienced DWI defense attorney will be able to highlight the evidence that supports your acquittal. In addition, your attorney may be able to cast doubt on or even exclude evidence against you from being introduced at trial.
Results of Chemical Tests
The results of a blood, breath, or urine test are often the most pivotal evidence in a DWI trial. The results are easy for a jury to wrap their mind around; if the resulting blood alcohol concentration is found to be .08 or higher the jury may find that convincing evidence. But these test results cannot simply be passed out to jurors. The State of Texas must show that the samples were properly taken, that everyone involved in the process was properly accredited, and that the chain of custody for the sample was never broken.
An experienced DWI defense attorney will know how to challenge nurses, officers, or lab technicians that were involved in any stage of the testing process.
Results of Field Sobriety Tests
Another critical part of your trial is any testimony relating to field sobriety tests. Field sobriety tests are not even tests in the truest sense. They are a series of subjective balance and coordination exercises conducted by law enforcement officers at the scene of the arrest. These tests are often conducted in low light and on uneven surfaces. In some DWI cases, the officers merely testify as to the results.
In others, there may be a video of the tests that will be played for the jury. Either way, your attorney will be able to question the officer about whether the tests were administered in accordance with strict guidelines. Evidence that field sobriety tests were not properly conducted can be beneficial to obtain an acquittal.
Conclusions of Drug Recognition Experts
Not every DWI case involves the consumption of alcohol. Many DWI charges stem from the alleged use of painkillers, sleeping pills, illegal narcotics, or a combination of substances. The difficulty in these types of cases is that unlike with alcohol there is no metric that is tested for like blood alcohol concentration. This has led to the development of drug recognition experts and what is known as the DRE protocol.
A drug recognition expert is a Texas law enforcement officer that has taken additional courses in recognizing the signs of drug use. Despite its official-sounding name, the DRE process is not scientific. It was developed by police officers, not scientists or drug experts. The accuracy of these tests is questionable at best, and your defense attorney may be able to expose some of these issues that make the DRE protocol so suspect.
Video cameras are prevalent not just on police vehicles these days, but on the officers as well. It is possible that video was also taken by bystanders or recorded by nearby businesses. Video evidence is frequently used at trial. The State may offer video of your field sobriety tests, or dashboard camera recordings showing you committing a traffic violation.
Your attorney could also introduce video showing that you were not showing any evidence of being intoxicated.
Your Own Statements
Words matter at trial, especially your own. While there are rules preventing witnesses from testifying about what others have said, there are times when these statements known as hearsay are allowed. One exception to the hearsay rule is for admissions made by a party.
In other words, if you admit to drinking alcohol, taking drugs or being too drunk to drive to the arresting officer, they can testify as to what you said. If your alleged admission was not recorded, it will fall to the officer's memory to recollect what you said. Your attorney will have the chance to cross-examine the officer. During that cross-examination, your attorney may probe the officer's memory or even challenge their truthfulness. Cross-examining a witness successfully takes a skill that can only be developed by an attorney that has put in the practice in the courtroom.
Eye Witness Testimony
Many DWI trials are dominated by testimony from the defendant and law enforcement. However, in some cases, there are independent third parties that witness the arrest or what occurred shortly before it. The State of Texas may call witnesses driving near you to claim you were driving erratically. Other prosecution witnesses may be called to testify that they witnessed you consume alcohol shortly before or while you were driving.
On the other hand, your attorney may call independent witnesses who can testify that you did not drink shortly before driving. Also, if there was a break in the chain of custody for a chemical test in your case, a witness may be able to testify to that effect.
Hiring a Trial Lawyer to Defend You
If you are facing DWI charges in the Houston area, your best bet for acquittal is by hiring an attorney that will prepare your case for a jury trial. Doug Murphy is a Houston DWI defense attorney that is the definition of a trial attorney. He has had repeated success at the trial level and approaches each case as if it will be tried in front of a jury.
One of only two attorneys in Texas to be Board Certified as an expert in both DWI defense law and criminal defense law, Doug Murphy has the proven experience and training to help you develop the strongest defense possible. If you would like to discuss the merits of your case, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today to schedule your free consultation.