Is DWI a Crime of Violence?

There are no other criminal offenses like DWI. It is treated differently by the public, prosecutors, and police alike. You cannot go through a week of newscasts without hearing about at least one famous or not famous person being arrested for DWI and what their blood alcohol content was. This very public crime is treated differently for several reasons.

When it comes to most crimes, the accused benefits from a presumption of innocence, but DWI suspects are often treated guilty upon arrest. In fact, the efforts to stamp out DWIs are so rampant that other laws are often twisted to apply in a way that further punishes those accused of DWI.

A Crime of Violence?

This is what happened to a permanent resident living in Florida in 2000. He was arrested earlier that year for DWI, convicted, and was serving his sentence when the Immigration and Naturalization Service came looking for him. It was their theory and opinion that because he was convicted of DWI and causing a serious bodily injury, he was guilty of a crime of violence.

This issue had particular relevance to this man because his immigration status depended on whether his DWI was a crime of violence or not. If yes, as the INS was theorizing, he was going to be deported to Haiti; if no, then he would serve his sentence and stay in the US. But this question has other implications, as well. A person’s ability to purchase and carry firearms could be affected, as well as criminal history, and other parts a person’s life.

In this case, Leocal v. Ashcroft, the lower courts agreed with the INS and the man was on the verge of being deported. But the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, where the nine justices there issued a rare unanimous opinion. The primary issue before the court was whether, going forward, some DWIs would be considered violent offenses and therefore trigger certain parts of federal and state law to the detriment of those accused.

The Supreme Court justices did not agree with the lower courts. In their opinion, they declared that a DWI is not a violent offense under federal law. They focused their analysis on the fact that violent offenses in our criminal justice system typically require the offender to intentionally act violently towards another. In contrast, a DWI that results in an injury is a negligent act at worst. Unless a prosecutor can prove that a driver intended to cause injury in a DWI, it will not be classified as a crime of violence.

Understanding Your Rights

While this is good news for those accused and convicted of DWI, it reveals a broader pattern of how DWIs are treated differently. There is a constant, extra-legal effort by the public and others to punish DWIs in ways that other crimes are not. This results in an uphill battle for those accused of DWI and faced with defending those charges.

If you are facing DWI in the Dallas area, contact us today. At The Wilder DWI Defense Firm, our team of dedicated DWI defense professionals will help you understand what your rights are and provide you with the best defense available.