Driving While Intoxicated

Common Crime, Uncommon Punishment

Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) represents the most common misdemeanor offense in Tarrant County.  Why?  For starters, most people drink and most people drive.  Drinking then driving is NOT ILLEGAL.  It is only illegal if you are intoxicated.  However, as far as law enforcement is concerned, "Drink, Drive, Go To Jail."  Plus, most police agencies have specialized units that target drunk drivers.  Did you realize that DWI's are a huge MONEY MAKER for the State?  In addition to the criminal consequences, a DWI conviction may have numerous ancillary consequences such as:

A breathalyzer device installed in your car

A driver's license suspension

Special insurance, called SR22

Thousands of dollars in surcharges to keep your license

DWI is one of very few charges in which you cannot get Deferred Adjudication.  Any plea to a DWI results in a conviction.  You need a strong advocate to fight for you on a small case with huge consequences.  Colin McLaughlin is a defense attorney in Fort Worth who will fight for you.   

Types of Intox Offenses

• DWI – 1st offense (Class B Misdemeanor)

• DWI – 1st offense with an Open Container (Class B Misdemeanor, but with 6 days as the minimum                              jail punishment)

• DWI – 1st offense with a BAC .15 or higher (Class A Misdemeanor)

• DWI – 2nd offense (Class A Misdemeanor, but with 30 days as the minimum jail punishment)

• DWI with a child passenger (State Jail Felony)

• DWI 3rd offense or more (3rd Degree Felony)

• Intoxication Assault (3rd Degree felony)

• Intoxication Manslaughter (2nd Degree felony)

Traffic Stops

Most DWI arrests start with a routine traffic stop, such as speeding, running a red light, failing to use a blinker, and swerving in the road.  Obviously some traffic violations are worse than others, but the police need some LEGITIMATE REASON to pull you over.  A good attorney will hold the State to its burden at every step in the process.  

An officer will judge everything you say or do, so be very careful.  Officers are trained to look at such things as your appearance, speech, demeanor, and balance.  It is perfectly normal to be nervous when an officer is pulling you over, but an officer may take nervousness to mean you are intoxicated or hiding something.  Be very careful when speaking with police.   

Field Sobriety Tests

If an officer believes you are intoxicated, he will ask you to perform some field sobriety tests.  These tests are completely VOLUNTARY, but an officer will make you think they are mandatory.  You have every right to refuse these tests, but be POLITE!  Remember, everything you say and do is being recorded by the police dash camera or the officer's body camera.  A jury will see those tapes.  

There are 3 Standardized Field Sobriety Tests:

  1. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test
  2. Walk & Turn Test
  3. One Leg Stand Test

The HGN test has the officer watch a person's eyes closely to look for an involuntary jerking of the eye.  This type of nystagmus can be exacerbated by the introduction of alcohol or some drugs.  An officer will look for three clues in each eye, for a total of six clues.  A person fails the HGN test if an officer finds four out of six clues.

The Walk & Turn Test is a series of nine heal-to-toe steps down an imaginary line.  There is then a confusing turn, and then nine more heal-to-toe steps back.  The State will claim that this test determines if a person can control his mind and body at the same time.  In reality, it is a test many athletes cannot pass.  The test has a total of eight clues.  A failing score is two!  The clues are:

  • Cannot keep balance during instruction phase
  • Starts test too soon
  • Stops while walking
  • Misses heal to toe
  • Steps off the line
  • Uses arms to balance
  • Improper turn
  • Incorrect number of steps

The One Leg Stand is the final standardized test.  This test has the person stand on one leg with the other leg lifted about six inches off the ground and pointed out.  Then, the person is to count out loud while looking at the raised foot.  Here again, most athletes struggle with this test.  The test has a total of four clues.  Again, the failing score is two.  The clues are:   

  • Sways while balancing
  • Uses arms to balance
  • Hops
  • Puts foot down

If an officer believes a person has failed these tests, he will arrest the driver.  This is not the end of the DWI investigation.  

Breath or Blood

After a driver is arrested, an officer will ask for either a breath or blood specimen.  The officer must read a statutory warning called the DIC-24 form.  This form is a lengthy and confusing document.  Here is a simple breakdown of the DIC-24 form for those over 21 years old:

  • If you refuse to give a specimen, your driver's license will be suspended for at least 180 days;
  • If you agree to give a specimen and if you are over a 0.08 BAC, your driver's license will be suspended for at least 90 days; and
  • If you refuse to give a specimen, the officer will most likely get a warrant for your blood.

If you are under 21 years old, here is a breakdown of the DIC-24:

  • If you refuse to give a specimen, your license will be suspended for at least 180 days;
  • If you agree to a specimen and it shows any amount of alcohol, your license will be suspended for at least 60 days;
  • If the analysis is under a 0.08 BAC, you may be charged with a less severe offense; and
  • If you refuse, the officer will probably get a warrant for your blood.

Not every police agency will get a warrant for your blood, but most will.  Whether the State has a breath test or a blood test, there are ways to fight the results.  Labs are not perfect.  The breath machine, known as the Intoxilyzer, is not perfect.  

If you are arrested, you will be subject to a license revocation.  You may be able to fight that revocation, but there are strict deadlines.  If you get arrested for a DWI, call McLaughlin Law at 817-482-6263 immediately to get a Board Certified Criminal Law expert to handle your case.

Keys to a Successful Defense

In my experience a jury cares about three things:

  1. Driving facts (good or bad?)
  2. The test score
  3. How you look on the video

The video tape is probably the best evidence in a DWI trial.  Do you look good?  Do you sound sober?  Are you polite?  Remember, you are always being watched and recorded.  Start your defense as soon as you see those lights flashing behind you!  Here are some tips when you see lights flashing in your rearview mirror:

  • Put your blinker or hazards on immediately
  • Pull over in a safe manner
  • Get your license and proof of insurance out right away (don't fumble for it when the officer is at your window)
  • Be polite
  • Don't talk too much

Most importantly, call McLaughlin Law to protect your rights and fight for your freedom.