It may surprise you to learn that the offense of driving while intoxicated does not necessarily require proof that you were either (a) driving or (b) intoxicated. To elaborate more on this, Texas law states a person commits misdemeanor DWI if they are “intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place.” This does not require the person to actually be driving, merely that they are in control of a vehicle that is not on private property.
As for the “intoxicated” part, that requires some proof the driver did not have the “normal use of mental or physical faculties” due to alcohol or drug use. Normally, prosecutors would prove this by introducing the results of a blood-alcohol or breath test. But even without scientific testing, a jury can still convict a defendant of DWI if there is other circumstantial evidence suggesting the driver was impaired.
Man Charged with DWI
After Falling Asleep in Car Near Police Station
Take this recent case from the Texas Third District Court of Appeals, Stroud v. State. This case began when a police officer had just clocked out for his shift and was going to get some gas. Near the police station’s parking lot, the officer said he observed a car parked next to–but not on–a private driveway with its reverse lights on. A few minutes later, the officer observed the same car again. The officer went back to the police station and informed his supervisor.
Both officers then approached the car. They said the engine was running and a man–the defendant in this case–was sleeping in the driver’s seat. The officers awoke the defendant. After the defendant rolled down his window, the officers said they “detected a strong odor of alcohol coming from the car.”
The officers said the defendant made several “unintelligible statements.” But the defendant did manage to admit that he had “two or three beers after finishing work.” Officers then performed a horizontal-gaze-nystagmus (HGN) test. Based on the results of this test and their prior observations, the officers arrested and charged the defendant with DWI.
Police apparently performed no additional sobriety, blood, or breath tests. Nevertheless, the jury found the defendant guilty. On appeal, the defendant argued there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction. The Third District disagreed and affirmed the jury’s verdict. The appeals court said the HGN test results, in addition to the officers’ own observations of the defendant, were sufficient to prove his intoxication.
The defendant also challenged the jury’s finding that he was, in fact, operating a motor vehicle in a public place. As it turned out, the defendant was parked near his own driveway. However, the officers testified the defendant’s car was actually “found beyond his fence line, in front of a fence post” that divided his property from the police station. And regardless of where the defendant actually parked, he admitted to the officers that he had been driving after leaving work that day.
Accused of a Drunk Driving Offense in Houston?
Speak with a Houston DWI Lawyer Today
Anytime the police start to question you on suspicion of drunk driving, your best option is to remain silent and ask to speak with an experienced Houston DWI defense attorney. Contact the Attorney Tad A. Nelson in Houston, Galveston or League City today if you need immediate help.