This guide introduces defenses for Driving While Intoxicated in New Braunfels. In all criminal cases, a person charged with DWI is presumed innocent. The State has the burden to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The person charged must be acquitted if the State fails to meet its burden. An effective defense will protect the defendant’s presumption of innocence and prevent the State from meeting its burden.
What Must the State Prove?
An effective DWI defense will attack the State’s case on multiple fronts. The State must rebut the defendant’s presumption of innocence by admissible evidence.
The State must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a guilty verdict:
(1) defendant operated a motor vehicle,
(2) in a public place while either
(3) under the influence of intoxicating liquor or with a .08 or greater blood alcohol content (BAC).
If the State fails to prove the defendant guilty of the three elements, the defendant must be acquitted. A person cannot be tried for the crime again if acquitted at trial.
Challenging the Legality of the Stop Itself
The defense has many opportunities to attack the State’s case both pretrial and during the trial. During the pretrial phase, the defense can challenge why the officer stopped you while driving. This challenge is called a motion to suppress evidence. The parties argue the motion in front of a judge during a hearing.
In such a hearing, the State must prove the officer did not violate the driver’s constitutional rights. Such rights include protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The State must prove the officer had a specific and articulable reason or reasons to stop the car. The State must also prove that any statements the driver made did not violate the Miranda warnings and were made knowingly and voluntarily without being coerced.
A judge will likely suppress the evidence if the police violated the driver’s constitutional rights. Such evidence includes:
- Observations of the police.
- Video recording of the stop and booking.
- Portable breath test (PBT) results.
- Standard field sobriety tests (SFST).
- Statements made by the driver.
- Breathalyzer tests (BT) or blood refusal.
The State cannot use suppressed evidence at trial. In other words, the State will not have any evidence to produce at trial. Without evidence, the charges will be dismissed.
Challenging the Tests
The defense can attack the State’s scientific evidence as well. To be admissible, evidence such as Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), PBT, BT, and blood tests require the State to call an expert witness to testify. The defense attacks the evidence because the testing is scientifically unreliable, or the expert personally argues that the witness lacks sufficient knowledge, training, and experience to offer a scientific opinion at trial.
The defense should also make these same attacks during the trial; however, it is beneficial to the defendant to attack pretrial. Even if unsuccessful, a pretrial contest of the scientific evidence gives the defense a significant advantage in learning about the evidence before trial, providing an opportunity to fashion a winning defense.
Three Ways to Attack Scientific Evidence
The State’s scientific evidence may be unreliable and, therefore, inadmissible for three reasons:
(1) The test may be scientifically unreliable. Defendants have successfully argued that HGN and PBT tests are scientifically unreliable.
(2) Errors made by the person administering and interpreting the tests are frequently a successful avenue of attack. For instance, a judge may find the HGN test admissible because it is scientifically reliable. Still, the person administering the test failed to follow the correct procedure or mistakenly interpreted the results.
(3) Any machines used, such as the PBT or BT, may yield an incriminating result but may have been incorrectly calibrated. The use of defense experts is critical here. An expert retained by the defense can help question the reliability of the HGN, PBT, BT, and blood tests pretrial. Also, the defense expert can testify for the defense at trial to create doubt that the evidence the State offered lacks scientific reliability and that the State’s expert witness lacks credibility.
The aim is to give the jury a reason to disregard or downplay the significance of the State’s scientific evidence. Additionally, a defense expert might be able to testify that the driver’s BAC was lower when the officer stopped the driver, casting doubt on the accuracy of the BT reading.
The police officer’s testimony is grounds for an attack as well. A trial in which an officer does not testify well or hold up under cross-examination by the defense often results in an acquittal for the defendant. Despite all the good that they do, police officers are human.
The accuracy of the officer’s memory, testimony inconsistent with the police report, and any bias the officer may have are all methods used to attack the officer’s credibility. Exploiting these issues at trial may help secure an acquittal because an officer’s biased or inconsistent testimony may not convince the jury.
The defense must attack the arresting officer’s observations during the arrest. The officer will testify to observations of the smell of alcohol, bloodshot and watery eyes, slurred speech, poor driving, and poor performance on the SFSTs. On direct examination, the evidence will sound overwhelming. A good cross-examination will open substantial holes in the officer’s testimony and is where the best defense lies.
Standard Field Sobriety Tests (SFST)
The officer may have been trained in the academy to administer SFSTs with a particular method but may not have followed the training and administered the SFSTs incorrectly. How the police officer administers the SFSTs might have been unfair.
For instance, the cruiser’s lights might have been in the driver’s eyes, or the road might have been uneven. Or the officer may not have explained the test well or accurately, or the driver may have had an injury preventing the successful completion of the tests.
According to the officer, the driver might have performed well on the tests by following directions, but they were not perfect. The results on SFSTs, to a large extent, are subjective. An excellent and thorough cross-examination will demonstrate to a jury that the SFSTs should not be given as much weight as the State argues.
A winning defense strategy in a DWI case will explore many areas. Since every case is different, an experienced DWI attorney will explore all the abovementioned avenues to defend a case. Your attorney must know the defenses to Driving While Intoxicated in New Braunfels.
Contact me for a free case review if you are charged with Driving While Intoxicated in Comal County or other Central Texas counties such as Hays County, Guadalupe County, Travis County, or Bexar County.