A Texas DWI charge is significant to just about anyone, considering the potentially severe short- and long-term consequences. Yet those consequences magnify when the defendant is a Texas public official like Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, whom the county's Office of District Attorney charged December 8, 2020, with a prescription-drug based DWI relating to a September 10th motor-vehicle accident. The court complaint alleges that Judge Keough had the misfortune of striking not just one but two vehicles, the second of which was a deputy constable's cruiser.
It's not that the interests and concerns of public officials are any more important than for the rest of us. We all matter, at least to our families, our employers, and ourselves. The issue is that the public rightly holds officials like judges to higher standards. A DWI charge is embarrassing for anyone, but it can entirely derail a public official's career, especially one serving in the justice system that hears and decides such charges. Judge Keough, like any public official in his position, has a lot riding on the charge's outcome.
A Charge Is Not a Conviction
Do not assume, though, that the story of a public official charged with Texas DWI implies the official's guilt. On the contrary, Judge Keough may well have a sound defense to the charge. Promptly after news of the charge broke, he maintained his innocence in a Facebook video post saying that any prescription medication in his blood was at normal, prescribed, therapeutic levels. Other good news for Judge Keogh is that the pharmaceutical company that makes Ambien indicated that a side affect is people taking Ambien (Zolpidem) is the inducement of "sleep-driving". This is not an uncommon problem for people who take their prescribed medication, go to bed and wake up in the middle of the night unaware they are in the kitchen eating or getting in their cars and start driving. The legal problem with prosecuting someone for DWI is that when they drove there actions were an involuntary act. This is a legal defense in Texas. Judge Keough is not the first good person this has happened too, which is why the pharmaceutical company issued a warning about the "sleep-driving" side-affect to Ambien.
Yet Judge Keough is not necessarily out of the figurative woods if he establishes that his physician prescribed the sleep medication in his system. Prosecutors can base a DWI charge not just on blood-alcohol levels or on illegal or even over-the-counter drugs but also on prescribed medications. Unlike the specific .08 blood-alcohol level establishing a Texas DWI offense, Texas law has no magic number for medication levels.
Instead, Texas police rely on their own twelve-step, so-called drug-recognition-expert (D.R.E.) to evaluate a driver's drug impairment. Studies of that police-designed protocol, though, shows its unreliability, resulting in false DWI arrest over half the time. Read here for more problems that Texas prosecutors have in charging DWI based on the side effects of legal medications. Judge Keough may have good reason for his publicly expressed confidence in the outcome of his charge.
A Public Official's Burden--and Opportunity
Judge Keough's publicly expressed confidence may be another indication of the unusual challenges and opportunities public officials face when charged with crimes like DWI. You likely wouldn't be reading this story if it didn't have to do with a judge. A Texas 2020 DWI-crime summary shows that prosecutors charge nearly 100,000 DWI crimes each year, of which you probably heard of only a few. And DWI can be a serious crime. While the only public report of injury in Judge Keough's accident was to himself, 2019 figures show around eight-hundred Texas fatalities from alcohol-involved crashes.
Yet the same 2020 DWI-crime summary shows a far smaller number of annual DWI convictions in Texas. Instead, with appropriate defense representation and advocacy, many DWI charges result in no conviction or conviction only of a reduced charge. Most DWI defendants should not resort to Facebook to publicize their defense. After all, as Miranda rights warn, anything you say can and will be used against you. Yet officials like Judge Keough are accountable not just to the prosecutors but also to the public. His public disclosure was very likely carefully planned and may well have been highly appropriate.
Get Effective Representation
Whether you are a public official or not, your reputation and future deserve effective representation from 2021 Houston DWI Lawyer of the Year Doug Murphy, a Board Certified DWI specialist. Contact Doug Murphy Law Firm online or at (713) 229-8333 today to discuss your case. Whether your case is of public interest or not, you can trust Texas DWI attorney Doug Murphy with your DWI defense. Whether in or out of the Houston area, Doug is your best bet for Texas DWI defense. Doug is one of only two Texas lawyers holding both DWI Board Certification and Criminal Law Certification.