A Houston woman is facing felony criminal DWI charges for allegedly driving drunk with her two small children in the vehicle. The woman wasn't actually behind the wheel at the time of her arrest. She was reportedly slumped over the vehicle's door frame when officers arrived on the scene. Police discovered her two young children fastened into seats in the rear of the vehicle.
DWI and Operation of a Motor Vehicle
It's illegal to drink and drive in Texas. However, the state's DWI laws address behavior that goes above and beyond “driving.” According to Section 49.04 of the Texas Penal Code, you can be arrested for DWI if you “operate” a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated.
The term “operating” isn't specifically defined in the Penal Code. However, courts have held that the phrase involves much more than simply driving a vehicle from one place to another. According to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the term operate means that a person “exerted personal effort upon his vehicle for its intended purpose.” Whether or not someone was operating a vehicle in violation of state DWI law is something that must be considered in light of relevant circumstances.
So, a person can be arrested for DWI if they “took action to affect the functioning of the vehicle in a manner that would enable the vehicle's use.” Examples of operating a motor vehicle could include:
- Putting the key into the ignition
- Starting the engine to warm or cool the vehicle's cabin, or
- Fastening your seatbelt or a passenger's seatbelt.
Sleeping behind the wheel can even be enough to warrant criminal DWI charges.
Any action that manipulates or prepares the vehicle to drive could potentially be a violation of Texas DWI law. As a result, it's possible to be arrested for driving while intoxicated even if you weren't actually driving the vehicle.
However, the state will have the burden of proving that you were operating the vehicle in violation of the law. Prosecutors will have to present evidence that shows you exerted some control over the vehicle to enable its use.
DWI With Child Passengers
Absent any aggravating factors, driving while intoxicated is typically a misdemeanor offense for first- and second-time offenders. However, things become much more serious when children under the age of 16 are involved. The state imposes harsher penalties when it believes that children's lives and safety are put in harm's way. Driving a vehicle while intoxicated with a child passenger is a felony. This is true whether this is your first, second, or fifth DWI offense.
DWI with a child passenger is a state jail felony, punishable by 180 days to two years behind bars. Other possible penalties include $10,000 in fines, probation, and the suspension of your driver's license.
Getting a DWI in Houston can have consequences that affect you for the rest of your life. It's important to defend yourself with the help of an experienced lawyer. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. to schedule a free consultation. Our Houston DWI defense attorneys can help you protect your future. Call today to learn more.