A recent survey of the strictest DWI laws in country landed Texas as the 10th strictest state. When charged with DWI under Texas law, some defenses typically available in criminal trials are not available to those charged with DWI. One of those is involuntary intoxication.
Imagine right before leaving a party to go home, a fellow party-goer slipped you an illegal drug in your diet-soda. Now, imagine that you are pulled over on the way home and brought up on charges of DWI. The position of Texas prosecutors and judges is that in such a case you becoming involuntarily intoxicated is no defense. The simple act of driving impaired is enough to be convicted of DWI.
If the above scenario is shocking to you, it should be. Within the framework of the criminal justice system are several assumptions and principles that have evolved over a millenia. They include presuming innocence until proven guilty, allowing a person to have a trial by jury, and providing counsel at trial. Another equally important principle involves breaking a crime into two parts.
Every crime should have two basic elements to it, a guilty mind and a guilty act. Historically, this principle is called mens rea and actus reus. The principle is so ingrained into the western system of justice that each crime on the books is attributed with one kind of a mental state or another. The main point is, however, that before a crime is committed, the criminal must act criminally and intend to act criminally.
It appears that this is not the case in Texas when it comes to DWI. The courts of appeal have been dealing with this issue over the last several decades, and continue to come down on the side of the prosecution and rule that there is no mental state requirement for DWI in Texas. These rulings include situations in which the defendant claimed:
- Taking an Ambien instead of blood pressure pills by accident;
- Being slipped an illegal drug after leaving a party;
- Being gien an illegal drug and blacking out;
- Being treated at a hospital with powerful drugs and later driving.
In all of these cases, a jury was not even allowed to hear an instruction on involuntary intoxication. In each case the judge in charge did not allow the jury to decide the point. In each case the courts of appeal upheld those rulings.
Why are DWIs treated differently from other crimes in Texas? That is a complicated question that would take many blog posts to answer, but the short answer is that DWIs simply are not considered to be like other crimes. Once a person is accused of DWI, many times the perception is that he or she is guilty, but that is not how you will be treated by our DWI defense team.