Posted on 10/4/16

Texas law criminalizes driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs or any impairing substance, regardless of whether the defendant causes damage. The law criminalizes such behavior as a deterrent to dangerous driving that keeps everyone safe. While many behaviors are unsafe while operating a motor vehicle, the law specifically highlights DWI as an especially egregious act that runs counter to law and order. Read further for a brief explanation of intoxication and DWI.

Intoxication by Alcohol or Drugs

TheTexas Penal Code defines “intoxication” as:

  • Not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties due to 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.

Texas law provides these two different methods of proving intoxication because it would be unfair to have a law that favors people who can hold their liquor over people who cannot.

Driving While Intoxicated

To sustain a conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI) under theTexas Penal Code, the prosecution must demonstrate that the defendant:

  • Was intoxicated;

  • Was driving or operating a motor vehicle; and

  • Was in a public place.

DWI with alcohol concentration of 0.15 or higher is a Class A misdemeanor. An offense of driving while intoxicated is a third-degree felony if it is shown at trial that the accused has been previously convicted twice of another offense relating to the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

The element of “Operating a Motor Vehicle”

The proof must show that the defendant drove or operated a vehicle at the same time he or she was intoxicated. In the 1994 Barton case, the Dallas Court of Appeals held that there was sufficient evidence of operating a motor vehicle when officers found the defendant asleep with the car engine running and his feet on the clutch and brake. However, other courts disagreed with this ruling and require that the defendant must be caught actually driving or operating the motor  vehicle while intoxicated

The Element of “Public Place”

“Public place” means any place where the public or a substantial group of the public has access and includes, but is not limited to, streets, highways, and the common areas of schools, hospitals, apartment houses, office buildings, transport facilities, and shops. This can include private property if the there is public access. One court found that an unpaved driveway of a rural residence located 1/4 mile from a county road in an isolated area is not a public place. Thus, driving or operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated in one’s secluded backyard cannot be criminally liable under the Texas Penal Code.

If you are accused of DWI in the Dallas area, be aware that it is a serious charge. Do not plead guilty to “just get it over with” because it can have significant effects. Contact Christopher Abel, a veteran defense attorney.

(image courtesy of Leaflet)

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