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Is Evidence of Drug Use Relevant in a DWI Case?

Although we commonly refer to drunk driving, in practice you can be tried and convicted of DWI even if you are not technically intoxicated due to alcohol consumption, i.e. your blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) is still below the legal limit of 0.08 percent. Under Texas law, the state only needs to prove that the “introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body” of the defendant caused that person to not have the “normal use of mental or physical faculties” while operating a motor vehicle.

Court Rules DWI Charge Was Not “Alcohol-Only,” Finds Other Drug Use Relevant

In other words, if you only had one or two drinks–not enough to put you over 0.08 percent–but also took drugs, that combination may be sufficient to prove a DWI charge.

Here is an illustration of what we are talking about. This is taken from a recent Texas appeals court decision, Olivares v. State. In this case, police in Lubbock responded to a report of an SUV crashing into several vehicles parked at a dealership.

The police questioned the SUV driver, who admitted to having “one shot of a margarita” that evening. Based on this admission and additional observations, the officer decided to conduct a field sobriety test. Midway through, the defendant confessed he could not complete the test. The officer then arrested the defendant for DWI.

The defendant submitted to a blood test. The test actually revealed the defendant had a BAC of 0.028 percent, well below the 0.08 threshold. However, the test also revealed the presence of other drugs in the defendant’s system, including “THC metabolite, alprazolam, a cocaine metabolite, and Delta-9 THC.” Because the defendant had a prior DWI conviction, he was charged with a second-offense DWI, which is a Class A misdemeanor in Texas.

At trial, the defendant moved to suppress any evidence of non-alcoholic drugs in his system. The defense maintained the arresting officer “lacked training an experience to identify drug impairment.” As the defense saw it, this case was solely about “intoxication by alcohol,” so any evidence regarding the drugs was inadmissible.

The judge disagreed and denied the motion to suppress. The defendant then agreed to plead guilty–reserving his right to appeal the denial of the suppression motion–and the judge imposed a 180-day jail sentence.

The defendant appealed, but that proved unsuccessful. The Court of Appeals held this “[e]vidence of drugs in [defendant]’s system is probative and needed by the State to prove intoxication; the evidence is not distracting, misleading, or cumulative.” If the state had specifically charged “alcohol-only” intoxication, that would be have been different. But that was not the specific charge in this case.

Speak with a Houston DWI Attorney Today

When questioned by police on suspicion of DWI, never admit to drug or alcohol use of any kind. Your best option is always to remain silent and contact an experienced Houston DWI defense lawyer as soon as possible. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in League City or Galveston if you need advice or assistance today, (281) 280-0100 .