Building a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) Defense

February 21, 2024 | By Fulgham Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys
Building a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) Defense

Did you know that in Texas, a motorist can be charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) when they are not actually driving? The law defines DWI as operating a vehicle while intoxicated or with a prohibited BAC (blood alcohol concentration).

Texas courts have defined the term operating a vehicle quite broadly to include any action that “affects the functioning” of a vehicle in a manner that “enables its use.” So, while someone who is intoxicated while driving a car can be charged with DWI, actual driving is not required.

You might not know that several substances can mimic the appearance of alcohol on a breath test – even though they are not. Also, men and women may be eligible to use different defenses based on their body type, weight, and other considerations. This is why having an experienced DWI lawyer on your side is crucial when you are charged with a DWI in Texas.

Before we explore the possible types of defenses a Fort Worth DWI lawyer might raise on your behalf, let’s review how Texas DWI laws work.

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DWI Charges May be Misdemeanors or Felonies

When a motorist is accused of driving while intoxicated, they could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony criminal charge, depending on the circumstances surrounding the arrest. Most simple and straightforward DWI cases fall into the misdemeanor category, especially for first-time offenders. 

However, extenuating circumstances may allow the state to charge a driver with a felony DWI. Some cases that may qualify for a felony charge include:

  • Intoxication Assault – when someone is harmed as a result of the intoxication
  • Intoxication Manslaughter – when someone is killed because of the intoxication
  • DWI with a passenger under 15 years of age
  • Third or more DWI charge
  • Having a blood alcohol content of .15% or greater
  • Other exacerbating conditions

Since every case involves different facts, the charges and possible consequences can range wildly. A first-time DWI offender may receive probation, known as deferred prosecution, a fine, and/or a short jail sentence, while someone charged with a felony DWI could face imprisonment and loss of other personal rights along with fines that could reach $10,000.

Working with a skilled DWI defense law firm is crucial to understanding your legal rights and the potential outcomes you may face. Reach out to a DWI defense lawyer at Fulgham Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys for a free consultation to learn more today.

Important: A Texas DWI Charge Is Not a Conviction

Building a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) Defense

If authorities charge you with a DWI in Texas, a conviction is not guaranteed. There are many ways you may be able to challenge, reduce, or resolve your charge without receiving a conviction on your record. This is important because the consequences of any conviction can be quite severe. 

If you try to resolve your DWI charge quickly by pleading guilty and receiving a conviction, the penalties will usually involve more than court-ordered fines. Even a first conviction of a misdemeanor DWI charge can require up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000, assuming your BAC did not exceed 0.15%. 

Outside of the court system, you will also lose your driver’s license for at least 90 days and up to a full year. If you need to drive for work, you’ll have to apply for an ignition interlock device, and you’ll have to pay for the installation and maintenance costs. You will probably face higher insurance premiums and may lose your current insurance coverage after a DWI conviction.

A Strong DWI Defense Is the Best Way to Avoid a Conviction

To avoid facing the life-altering repercussions of a Texas DWI conviction, you’ll need a solid DWI defense and a tenacious criminal lawyer on your side, fighting for your legal rights. 

An experienced DWI lawyer may help you develop the strongest possible defense for your situation. Below, we’ll review several potential defenses that might be available in your case to reduce or eliminate your DWI charge. The goal is to avoid a conviction and possibly reduce the penalties you’ll face by using one of the following defenses.

The Police Officer Committed an Improper Stop

To justify a traffic stop, law enforcement must have more than just a “hunch” or “gut feeling” that the motorist is committing or has committed a crime. When you are pulled over in a traffic stop, the police officer must have a legitimate reason for stopping you, and they are required to tell you why you have been stopped.

An improper traffic stop is the most common defense argument raised in DWI cases.

One possible line of reasoning might be:

  • You obeyed the speed limit and other traffic laws
  • You did not drive erratically and 
  • You did not experience a mechanical malfunction, such as having a taillight out or a flat tire, so there was no justifiable reason to pull you over

If a judge rules that the police did not have the legal right to stop you, any evidence following that illegal traffic stop is inadmissible. Without that key evidence, your charges would likely be dismissed.

The Police Made a Mistake of Fact

There are countless legitimate circumstances and conditions that could cause someone to appear intoxicated or drunk. Likewise, many factors could skew the breath test results that measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC). 

A few examples of situations that could be misinterpreted as driving while intoxicated might include:

  • The driver experienced a hazard, such as a large pothole or an animal that darted across the road and caused them to swerve suddenly
  • Fatigue or neurological problems can cause slurred speech that is unrelated to intoxication
  • Seasonal allergies or sinus troubles can cause red, bloodshot, and/or watery eyes that could look like intoxication.
  • Dietary ketosis and diabetes are also known to register high BAC results on breath test devices.

If you honestly believe you were not intoxicated and can provide a reasonable explanation and/or evidence to support your defense, a skilled DWI attorney could argue this defense to the court.

The Officer Did Not Have Probable Cause

Just as the police officer who stopped you must have a reason for the stop, the prosecution must also present evidence to show the officer had reason to believe that you were violating Texas DWI law. This reason to believe is legally known as probable cause.

This defense can be tricky because it usually requires a subjective opinion on the part of the police officer involved. Challenging the testimony of an officer who is trained to identify intoxication can sometimes backfire in front of a jury during trial. 

However, when you had a valid reason for your behavior or the arresting officer truly lacked probable cause, the court might agree that there was no probable cause and exclude certain evidence.

If the court does not agree with your arguments and determines the evidence is admissible in court, additional defense strategies might still apply, depending on the evidence. Consider the following defense strategies to see if they might apply to your situation.

The DWI Defense of Necessity

Police Officer Committed an Improper Stop

Maybe you did drink and still got behind the wheel. Even if you admit this, there are still some potentially valid reasons why you may have chosen to do so.

Perhaps, under the circumstances, it was “necessary” for you to drive intoxicated to avoid something more serious than the potential harm a DWI could cause. For example, there have been cases where an intoxicated motorist was forced to drive under threat of harm by another person – this is known as duress. 

Or if someone is injured and needs immediate medical attention, a person who has been drinking may decide to drive the injured person to the hospital even though they may be legally intoxicated. 

Our legal team has also seen situations in which the intoxicated driver was unaware they had ingested alcohol at the time they elected to drive home. In one case, our client was at a party, and someone “spiked” their drink without their knowledge.

With the right defense strategy, you can share your side of the story with the court and request a thorough examination of the facts. If the court agrees with your legal defense theory, you may be able to beat your charges.

Police are required to read Miranda warnings to a person being detained during an arrest. If you did not hear phrases such as “You have the right to remain silent” or “Anything you say may be held against you in court,” your later statements to them can be challenged and possibly be deemed inadmissible.

For example, if you admitted you drank a large amount of alcohol before driving but never received Miranda warnings, that statement could be suppressed and not used against you in court. Depending on the other evidence presented by the prosecution, the case against you may not be sufficient to convict you.

The Police Officer’s Observations Were Incorrect

A police officer must make observations during the traffic stop to determine whether you are under the influence of alcohol. These observations may include: 

  • Detecting the odor of alcohol on your breath
  • Whether your speech was slurred
  • If your eyes were bloodshot
  • Any erratic behavior and 
  • Poor field sobriety test performance 

Your attorney may challenge the officer’s testimony by introducing other facts and evidence. For example, perhaps your eyes were bloodshot because you have allergies, or your speech was slurred due to a physical impairment. Maybe you performed poorly on the field sobriety test because you were severely fatigued or you have a pre-existing knee injury. 

Body camera video evidence may tell a different story than the police officer. A savvy defense attorney will request all video evidence to compare it to the officer’s testimony. There may be several other ways to poke holes in the officer’s testimony, and an experienced DWI attorney will recognize which defenses apply to your unique situation.

The Breathalyzer Test Results Are Inaccurate

At the time of arrest, the police officer may have used a Breathalyzer machine to detect your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level. However, the machine must be correctly calibrated and used to produce accurate results. If the officer was not properly trained to use the device or the machine was not calibrated correctly, the test results could be deemed inadmissible and thrown out.

Test results can also appear as false positives for several other reasons. If you recently used mouthwash or were exposed to various chemicals, they may appear as alcohol on the Breathalyzer test. If you have diabetes, the ketones in your breath may be detected as alcohol by the device. A skilled criminal defense attorney will know if you can use one of these defenses to fight your charges.

Your Blood Test Results Were Mishandled

Breathalyzer test

At the police station, your blood may be drawn for more accurate BAC testing. If the blood samples are improperly handled or stored, the results can be compromised. Again, if your attorney can uncover evidence that your blood sample was not handled properly, the court may bar evidence of your BAC and dismiss your case

You Were Involuntarily Intoxicated

Admittedly, this is an uncommon defense, but in very specific circumstances, involuntary intoxication can serve as a valid defense. A defense of involuntary intoxication usually means you did not realize you ingested alcohol. 

For example, if you attended a party and drank punch you didn’t know was spiked, you may not have realized your BAC exceeded the legal limit when you drove home. Or if someone slipped something into your drink, they could have drugged you without your knowledge.

To Learn Whether You May Have a Possible DWI Defense, Contact Fulgham Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys

Facing a Texas DWI charge is an extremely serious matter. Every case is different, and there might be extenuating circumstances in your situation that could form the basis for a DWI defense.

If any of these defenses apply to your case, reach out to an experienced Texas DWI lawyer at Fulgham Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys for a free initial consultation and learn more about the options available to you. Call us at (817) 877-3030 or complete our online contact form today.

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