Accidents happen, and sometimes serious injuries happen when you have an accident. But the last thing you want to worry about is a possible criminal charge if you're facing serious health issues or injuries because of a car crash. However, if the police believe that you were intoxicated or otherwise impaired when you had your accident, and another person was seriously injured, you could be facing DWI charges and accusations of intoxication assault. But if you're facing intoxication assault charges when you were seriously injured, this isn't something you have to handle on your own. An expert in DWI and criminal defense law, attorney Doug Murphy can help.
DWI Charges in Texas
Under Texas law, driving while intoxicated is broadly defined. Intoxication doesn't simply involve a blood alcohol content over the legal limit. Rather, “intoxication” is:
[N]ot 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.
Tex. Penal Code § 49.01(2) (2001). So, you can face a DWI charge if you:
- Have a BAC over the legal limit of .08% or .04% if you hold a commercial license, or
- You no longer have the “normal use” of your mental or physical faculties.
Texas DWI Penalties
Typically under Texas law, a first DWI conviction is a Class B misdemeanor, which can lead to 180 days in jail, a fine of up to $2,000, one year of a suspended license, and an additional mandatory administrative fine of $3,000. However, if your DWI involves a serious accident or injury, it can lead to felony charges.
For other DWI-related charges, the penalty you receive can depend upon the following:
- Whether you were involved in an accident,
- Whether anyone was seriously injured,
- Any prior DWI convictions,
- Your past driving record, and
- Whether there were any other aggravating circumstances.
The consequences for a DWI involving a serious accident can be severe. That's why it's essential to hire a DWI law expert immediately.
What is Intoxication Assault?
Intoxication assault is a separate charge from a DWI. If you are intoxicated, cause an accident because of your intoxication, and seriously injure someone in the process, you could face a charge of intoxication assault. The law says you may be guilty of intoxication assault:
if the person, by accident or mistake:
- while operating an aircraft, watercraft, or amusement ride while intoxicated, or while operating a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated, by reason of that intoxication causes serious bodily injury to another; or
- as a result of assembling a mobile amusement ride while intoxicated causes serious bodily injury to another.
Tex. Penal Code § 49.07 (2007).
The Texas statute defines “serious bodily injury” as an injury 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.”
Intoxication assault is a felony charge in Texas. A conviction is a third-degree felony that can result in up to ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine. But if the victim ends up in a vegetative state or was a police officer or first responder working in the line of duty, you could face second-degree felony charges. A second-degree felony conviction can result in up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Defending Against Intoxication Assault Charges
If you're facing felony intoxication assault and DWI charges, developing an aggressive defense with an experienced DWI attorney is important. An intoxication assault case is often more complex than a typical DWI case, and you'll need an expert in DWI law. A good attorney will scrutinize every aspect of the state's case against you, including:
- Whether you actually cause the accident,
- Whether the police had probable cause for your arrest or BAC testing,
- Whether the police or health care workers properly administered BAC testing,
- Whether your BAC test results were accurate, and
- Whether police testimony is consistent with reports and the evidence.
- Challenging the Cause of the Accident For intoxication assault charges, a causal link is very important. The prosecution must show that you actually caused the accident that seriously injured someone. Injuries that happen in a crash that isn't directly linked to your intoxication or you didn't directly cause can't be the basis for an intoxication assault conviction. When you are battling your own serious injuries, and there's a possibility you didn't even cause the accident, an experienced DWI attorney may even be able to present evidence that the other driver caused the accident.
- Challenging Probable Cause After the accident, the police can't arrest you for DWI or intoxication assault unless they have probable cause. The police have “probable cause” when the facts and knowledge they have are enough to “warrant a belief by a man of reasonable causation” that a crime happened. Under normal circumstances where you weren't injured, the police might use their interactions with you and a series of field sobriety tests to determine whether you might be intoxicated. But these tests and interactions are highly subjective. If you're injured, they can be even more unreliable. For example, the police might ask you to balance on one leg with your eyes closed. If you're injured or have other health conditions, that may not be possible, even while completely sober. Likewise, if you're injured or in shock, you may not be able to answer basic questions about yourself, your drive, or what happened. The police could wrongly assume that you don't have the normal use of your mental or physical faculties and wrongly use this as the basis for an arrest or a warrant for a BAC test. An experienced DWI defense attorney will understand how and why to challenge these subjective measures and the police officers' probable cause for an arrest.
- Challenging BAC Results Contrary to popular belief, blood alcohol content tests are not an infallible measure of intoxication. People make mistakes. While blood tests can often be an accurate measure of BAC, they must be administered promptly, with proper procedures, and with proper laboratory calibration and cleaning measures. For example, a breathalyzer or blood analysis equipment can be inaccurate if they aren't properly cleaned and calibrated regularly. If the police officer or health care provider taking your blood sample fails to follow protocols and to document the chain of custody, a blood analysis may be inaccurate or inadmissible in court. An expert in DWI defense will understand what to watch for and how to challenge errors in the accuracy of collection and measurement of your blood alcohol level.
- Challenging a Violation of Your Constitutional Rights We discussed how police must show that they had “probable cause” to arrest you or to obtain a warrant for a BAC test. If they don't have probable cause, then any evidence they obtained because of the arrest may be inadmissible. This could render the results of your BAC testing, questioning you after the arrest, or additional searches inadmissible. Accidents happen, and just because someone was unfortunately injured doesn't mean that you were at fault, that you caused another person's injuries, or that a crime occurred.
- Challenging Evidence or Witnesses Your attorney may also use a motion to suppress to exclude evidence or witnesses at trial that the police may have obtained illegally. The basis of this could be an unlawful arrest, a lack of probable cause, or an illegal search or seizure of evidence, among other procedural problems. But an expert in DWI defense will be well-versed in examining every aspect of your case to determine how best to challenge the case against you.
- Challenging Police Testimony An experienced DWI attorney will also understand how to use police reports and other evidence to challenge the state's case against you. For example, if the police report indicates that another driver was seriously injured in a crash that you caused, but witnesses at the scene and the police dash cam show that the other driver got out of their car and fell into a nearby ditch, garnering a serious head injury, the accuracy of the police reports and testimony can come into question.
You Need an Expert to Fight Intoxication Assault Charges
If you're facing felony DWI intoxication charges after an accident and trying to recover from your own serious injuries, you need legal help right away. A felony conviction can carry serious penalties and jail time, and you shouldn't try navigating the legal system alone. An expert in DWI defense, like Attorney Doug Murphy, can help.
Doug is one of only two attorneys in Texas who is an expert in both Criminal Law and DWI Defense. He holds Board Certifications in both these specialty areas of the law, making him uniquely qualified to defend complex DWI and intoxication assault cases. U.S. News and World Report also recently named Doug Murphy Lawyer of the Year by Best Lawyers in America for Houston DWI Defense for 2023.
Doug and his colleagues at the Doug Murphy Law Firm have been helping Houston DWI defendants for years, and they can help you too. If you're facing DWI, intoxication assault, or other DWI-related charges, give them a call at 713-229-8333 or contact them online.