When faced with the prospect of going to trial in a Texas DWI matter, it isn't easy to know where to start. The process is confusing. The consequences are severe, and most people do not have a lawyer on call that they can trust.
Because of this, people end up pleading guilty during the initial phases of a DWI case even though they may have legitimate defenses or concerns about violations of their rights. Although these defendants may not realize it at the time, these guilty pleas can cause ripple effects in every area of a person's life for years to come. Don't let that be you.
Instead, schedule a consultation with the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. Douglas Murphy is a board-certified expert in DWI defense and criminal law and one of Houston's best DWI defense attorneys. His law firm can help you assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case and assist you in making the best decision for you at every stage of the process.
Expert legal advice is particularly crucial when it comes to defending yourself at trial. Defendants, by law, are entitled to a presumption of innocence in Texas. This presumption means that it is the State's burden to prove its case against you, not the other way around.
To meet this burden, the State will often call witnesses to testify against you. If you've seen a trial on television or in the movies, you know that witness testimony can make or break a case. The jury looks to witnesses to help clarify issues in the case that a review of documents simply can't do. This is especially true when it comes to a DWI trial because much of the evidence is highly technical. An expert DWI attorney, like the attorneys at Douglas Murphy, P.C., will be able to effectively challenge the State's case, even with its technicalities, and present alternative testimony designed to defend you.
If you have been charged with a DWI in the Houston metropolitan area and would like a board-certified DWI defense lawyer to help, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today. And to help you understand more about the types of witnesses that you might encounter at a DWI trial, here is an overview.
Types of Witnesses in a DWI Trial
The witnesses in a DWI trial fall into 2 main categories - lay witnesses and expert witnesses. A lay witness testifies in court about what they have observed or what they have direct knowledge of as it relates to the DWI offense. Lay witnesses are limited to testifying about their observations and life experiences. They may only provide an opinion based on their actual perception or if it might otherwise be helpful for the jury or judge to understanding their testimony.
At trial, an expert witness gives testimony in an area of specialized knowledge that isn't known to the average person. Expert witnesses have specialized training, education, and experience. Because of this education, experts can testify about their area of expertise and render opinions based on their interpretation of the facts and circumstances presented during the trial.
Qualifying an Expert Witness
Unlike lay witnesses, expert witnesses must qualify to testify. According to Federal Rule of Evidence 702, a qualified expert witness must demonstrate that they have "knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education," which will "help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue." To demonstrate this training, an expert witness usually will provide their CV and a report related to their opinion of the facts and circumstances of the DWI case to both the State and defendant before trial. Both parties will also have the opportunity to question any expert witness about their training and experience during the trial.
Who Are the State's Lay Witnesses?
Because the State must prove the case against you, they must call certain lay witnesses to testify to meet that burden. These witnesses are the arresting officer and the officer who administered the Standard Field Sobriety Tests if that person is not the arresting officer. The State might also call other lay witnesses at the scene of the DWI incident or other officers on the scene or at the station that may have pertinent information about your case.
In addition to the officers and eyewitnesses at the scene, the State will have to call other lay witnesses to testify depending upon whether they collected a breath sample or blood sample in your case. If the officers took a breath sample from you on the day they arrested you, the State will bring in the breath test operator and the technical supervisor, or the officer responsible for the maintenance of the breath test machine, to testify. If they took a blood sample instead, the State will bring in the person who tested your blood and the officer who saw the doctor or nurse draw your blood.
Although testimony from these witnesses can lead you to believe that you have an open and shut case, that can't be further from the truth. At trial, you or your attorney will have an opportunity to cross-examine each of one of the State's lay witnesses. Your attorney will point out the inconsistencies in their testimony and question the reliability and credibility of their statements. Despite appearances, upon cross-examination from an experienced DWI attorney, it becomes clear that many lay witnesses do not remember or understand as much as they say they do.
A certified DWI attorney will also be able to question the professionally trained lay witnesses testifying against you like the police officers, breath test operators, doctors, and nurses. Your attorney will know whether the officers violated your rights during the incident and whether the doctors' and nurses' actions aligned with standard practices and procedures. Any deviation from that standard of care impacts the reliability and credibility of those witnesses and the evidence they present. So having an experienced attorney who can cross-examine them about their knowledge of those standard practices and their actions is critical.
Who Are The State's Expert Witnesses
The State's chief expert witness is usually the lab technician who tested the defendant's blood and measured the alcohol level. Once again, a certified DWI attorney will be able to question this technician and the lab's handling of the blood sample. Sometimes cross-examination reveals that the technician mishandled the sample rendering it invalid for testing. Other times, cross-examination reveals that there was a break in the chain of custody, meaning there isn't enough evidence proving that the blood drawn from you was actually the one tested at the lab. Exploring these areas is critical to any DWI defense, and an experienced attorney will be able to address these matters on cross-examination.
Who Are the Witnesses for the Defense
After the State presents its case, the defense can begin to call its witnesses. As a DWI defendant, you can also call lay witnesses and expert witnesses. However, unlike the State, you are under no obligation to prove anything. The witnesses you call are there solely to demonstrate that the State's case isn't as airtight as it claims to be.
Some types of witnesses you may want to testify on your behalf are:
- Your passenger or other eyewitnesses on the scene when the police arrested you;
- Character witnesses such as professional colleagues, friends, or family members who know what is normal for you and can honestly testify that based upon their knowledge and experience that you did not appear to be intoxicated;
- Expert witnesses to testify about proper police procedure or the practices of the medical professionals, lab technicians, and breath test operators; and
- Finally, you may want to testify in your own defense.
As I am sure you are aware, you have a right against self-incrimination, so you are under no obligation to testify at trial. But sometimes, there is critical information that only you, as the person involved in the incident, can attest.
If you decide to testify on your own behalf, it is vital that you hire an experienced DWI attorney in your case. Testifying as a defendant can be extremely tricky in ways you cannot imagine, and an experienced attorney will be able to prepare you to testify in a manner that serves to preserve your rights.
If you are considering taking your DWI case to trial, you must be able to evaluate the State's witnesses and be prepared to develop a cogent trial strategy to combat their testimony. An experienced Houston DWI trial attorney can help you with that.
To discuss your case with one of Houston's best DWI attorney, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. for a free consultation. Doug Murphy is a board-certified DWI defense lawyer. He has the training and experience to effectively review the circumstances of your case and protect your rights.