Police in Austin, Texas arrested a man last year for driving while intoxicated (DWI), even though a breath test at the time, followed by the results of a blood test, showed no alcohol in his system. More than a year after the arrest, prosecutors dismissed all charges, and the man is now hoping to have the arrest and court records expunged. The police stand by their decision to arrest him, noting that blood alcohol content (BAC) test results are only one way to establish intoxication under Texas law. BAC test results are often the simplest way for prosecutors to prove that a driver was impaired.
On January 13, 2013, police arrested the man after he allegedly ran a stop sign. They reportedly administered the Breathalyzer test at the county jail facility rather than the site of the traffic stop, indicating that police believed they had some other basis for arresting him besides BAC evidence. Police reports state that the man failed a roadside sobriety test because he was observed to be swaying and using his arms for support while standing on one leg. This sort of behavior could have other explanations besides drunkenness, which is why actual BAC evidence, or the lack thereof, is so important in a DWI case.
The Breathalyzer test revealed 0.00 percent BAC, meaning that if any alcohol was present in the man’s bloodstream, it was too little to register on the machine. The “legal limit” for BAC, above which a person is presumed to be intoxicated, is 0.08 percent. The man voluntarily submitted to a blood test, which checks for seven intoxicating substances. A months-long backlog in blood testing delayed the results, but they confirmed a lack of any measurable amount of alcohol or the other six drugs.
Texas law does not require specific evidence of alcohol-based intoxication to prove that a driver was “intoxicated.” In addition to BAC of 0.08 or higher, state law defines “intoxicated” as a lack of “the normal use of mental or physical faculties” caused by “alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug,” any combination thereof, or “any other substance.” Tex. Pen. Code § 49.01(2)(A). The state can therefore prove intoxication based on test results or testimony. Blood and breath tests are subject to numerous challenges, including improperly-calibrated or -maintained equipment, and contamination or mishandling of samples. A police officer’s observations about a driver’s behavior are subject to even more challenges, starting with the basic credibility of the witness and including the reliability of their recollections.
Police continue to defend the decision to arrest the man, noting the possibility that he was intoxicated with something that would not show up on the breath or blood tests, such as marijuana. The man only spent one day in jail, but spent more than a year defending the case. Prosecutors also initially defended the arrest, citing prior cases of people found to be legally intoxicated even with a BAC below 0.08 percent. They finally dismissed the charges in early February 2014.
For more than twenty years, board-certified criminal defense attorney Michael J. Brown has fought for the rights of west Texas defendants. He draws on his experience as an FBI agent and a prosecutor to assist clients charged with alleged state and federal offenses related to drugs, white collar crime, and other matters. To schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you, contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157.
More Blog Posts:
Supreme Court Allows Prosecutors to Use Silence as Evidence of Guilt – Salinas v. Texas, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, June 20, 2013
DUI Arrest Demonstrates How “Civil” Penalties May Result from Criminal Cases, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, June 11, 2013
Warrantless Blood Tests in DWI Investigations Under Review by U.S. Supreme Court, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, January 11, 2013
Photo credit: By West Midlands Police [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.