Attitudes about drunk driving have changed a lot. And when defending a Texas DWI charge, knowing that history can make a difference.
Drunk-driving laws are nearly as old as driving itself. One report cites an 1897 London taxi driver as the first to suffer drunk-driving conviction after ramming his vehicle into a building. New Jersey and New York had drunk-driving laws in the first decade of the 1900s. Other states, including Texas, were not too far behind. The early laws often went unenforced, though, especially because police and prosecutors had no reliable way of proving intoxication.
Drunk-driving laws needed better science to support wider enforcement. The advent in 1936 of a balloon-like drunkometer and in 1953 of the more-refined breathalyzer enabled legislators to define unlawful intoxication in ways that police and prosecutors could more-reliably prove. Drunk-driving laws first adopted the National Safety Council's recommended .15% as the lawful blood-alcohol limit and then, with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advocacy, gradually lowered those limits to .12% and .10%.
Swaying Public Opinion
Even in the face of those progressively stricter laws, drunk driving wasn't always such a big thing. Just because police and prosecutors were able to charge under DWI laws having specific blood-alcohol limits didn't mean that juries applying those laws were willing to convict. They were often not so willing. Public opinion was then, and remains today, important to the outcome of drunk-driving charges.
Gradually, though, concern over the carnage of motor-vehicle accidents led to improvements in collecting and analyzing accident data. Improved analysis led to clearer information on the role of drugs and alcohol in causing fatal and serious-injury accidents. Governments and safety organizations used that refined information to educate both the public and its elected legislators.
A big turning point came in 1980 when Candy Lightner, mother of a thirteen-year-old daughter killed in a drunk-driving accident, formed Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Students Against Drunk Driving, or SADD, and like advocacy further swayed public opinion toward strict enforcement of drunk-driving laws. Drunk driving was no longer an innocent rite of passage. It is now a serious crime. In the current climate, you must treat a Texas DWI charge seriously, retaining the best available counsel.
The key legal development in drunk-driving-law history was federal action in the year 2000. Congress lacks general legislative power for health and safety. It can, however, attach strings to federal appropriations, including the highway money on which states depend. The year-2000 federal transportation bill required states to lower their drunk-driving laws' permissible blood-alcohol levels to .08% or lose federal funding. All fifty states soon did so.
Within federal-funding restrictions, though, drunk-driving laws continue to change piecemeal from state to state. Texas, for instance, didn't adopt its open-container law until 2001. Texas, of course, follows the federally mandated .08% blood-alcohol level in its DWI laws. Yet Texas also increases the penalty for blood-alcohol levels at or above .15%.
Get Great Representation
In this context, the legal counsel you retain must know how to aggressively challenge the prosecution's evidence of a DWI crime. Premier criminal-defense lawyer and 2021 Houston DWI Lawyer of the Year, Doug Murphy, helps clients defend DWI charges while managing their consequences. See here more about how effective defense counsel can help win a DWI case. The key for anyone facing a DWI charge is to know your DWI rights and get the legal representation that can enforce those rights to your best benefit.
As a Board Certified DWI specialist and one of only two Texas lawyers holding both DWI Board Certification and Criminal Law Certification, Doug Murphy has the experience, skill, and sensitivity to help DWI defendants. Contact Doug Murphy Law Firm online or at (713) 229-8333 to discuss your case today, whether your case is of public interest or not. Trust Texas DWI attorney Doug Murphy with your DWI defense.