When Are DWI Penalties “Enhanced” Under Texas Law?

February 14th, 2020 by Tad Nelson in Criminal Defense, DWI

In a Texas DWI case, prosecutors may seek an “enhanced” sentence against a defendant under certain circumstances. For example, if the defendant has a prior criminal conviction, that could lead to additional jail time if they are subsequently convicted of drunk driving. But such an enhancement is only justified when there is evidence presented related to the prior conviction.

Appeals Court: Prior Conviction Enhancement Not Supported by Evidence

A recent decision from the Texas Second District Court of Appeals in Fort Worth, Dove v. State, illustrates what should happen when prosecutors do not introduce such evidence. In this case, a police officer responded to a report of a possible drunk driver parked at a gas station. The officer said he found the driver–the defendant–“slumped over the wheel.” Although the officer said he did not smell alcohol on the defendant’s breath, he nevertheless suspected the defendant was intoxicated.

In fact, the defendant voluntarily admitted he was taking “prescription hydrocodone.” A subsequent blood test revealed the defendant had a blood-alcohol level of 0.12 percent, which exceeds the legal limit of 0.08 percent. At the defendant’s trial for DWI, prosecutors introduced testimony from the arresting officer, as well as a paramedic who treated the defendant at the scene.

Prosecutors also charged the defendant with “enhanced” DWI based on an alleged prior conviction for assault. However, the defendant never admitted to the prior conviction at trial. As the appeals court noted, he “simply stood silent” on the issue. Nor did the prosecution introduce any evidence regarding this purported assault conviction. Nevertheless, the jury found the defendant guilty and the court applied the enhancement.

On appeal, the Second District held the enhancement was inappropriate. Indeed, the prosecution conceded the error. As a result, the appellate court simply amended the defendant’s sentence to omit the enhancement. A new sentencing hearing was unnecessary, the court said, as the defendant had “already been released from jail” after serving a 90-day sentence, which was “within the applicable range of punishment after deleting the enhancement.”

Separately, the Second District rejected the defendant’s challenge to the underlying DWI conviction. The defendant argued the trial court improperly allowed the jury to hear from “nonexpert witnesses”–the police officer and the paramedic–on the subject of his “narcotic intoxication.” But even assuming this testimony was inadmissible, the appellate court said the error was “harmless.”

As the appellate court saw the case, the prosecution introduced sufficient evidence of alcohol intoxication–namely, the results of the defendant’s blood-alcohol test. The prosecution’s case did not rest on any purported narcotic intoxication. So the conviction stood.

Speak with a Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

If you are facing DWI charges, especially with potential “enhancements,” you may be facing jail time. An experienced Houston DWI defense attorney can provide you with skilled advice and representation. Contact the Law Office of Tad Nelson & Associates today to schedule a consultation with a member of our team. Call 281-280-0100.


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