Friday, May 24, 2013

Study Shows DWI Surcharge Law to be Ineffective

A study by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition revealed that the percentage of fatal DWI accidents in Texas has increased over the last decade, from 26 percent in 2003 to 34 percent in 2011. This shocking statistic is despite the fact that in 2003 Texas passed its Driver Responsibility Law, legislation that punishes convicted drunk drivers with heavy fines. Now legislators are trying to end the law, but many citizens still support it. 

Why End It?
Many Texans feel the law is fair. Those who choose to drive while intoxicated should pay the price. Additionally, the fines collected were intended to benefit the state by helping to fund state highway projects and hospital trauma care.
However, many who oppose the legislation say the study speaks for itself. DWI accidents have not decreased since passing the Driver Responsibility Law. Many say the law means well, but doesn't address the problem. More should be done to prevent DWI accidents instead of a law that only punishes after a tragic accident.

Another problem is that people are not paying. Prosecutors say they can't handle the case load created by the those owing the fines. According to the state, 60 percent of those owing have not paid. That's a total of $1.7 billion owed to Texas. That also means the highways and hospitals that were supposed to get extra funding only saw a small amount of money. Critics of the legislation say the law has no benefits and creates a backlog of cases for prosecutors. Even Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston), who co-authored the law, says it's not working.

The Solution? 
As of right now, there's no state law proposed that would replace the Driver Responsibility Law. The solution is just not that simple. A lot of suggestions are being discussed, including an additional alcohol and tobacco tax. Many agree the solution must include prevention and more intervention programs for offenders. The goal should be to reduce fatal accidents, not only punish those responsible after-the-fact. We'll keep a close watch as Texas representatives debate this law and its alternative.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The New DWI DIVERT Program in Harris County, Texas

A new DWI intervention program has been created here in Harris County - one that offers first time DWI defendants a chance to keep their record clean. How will it do that? By offering to delay their trial for a year while they undergo an intense treatment program that, if completed, will result in no conviction being placed on their record. This is simply DIVERT reincarnate.  If you recall, current Harris County District Attorney, Mike Anderson said that he would abolish DIVERT.  He certainly did do that…for 3 months!  The DIVERT name has been abolished, but the program looks to be same with some new wrinkles. I welcome this program back with open arms, but until I see the new contract I am skeptical that it will be any different.
I know what you're probably thinking, "Great! Just what Harris County needs - a program that lets drunk drivers stay on the road." If so, let me reassure you that that's not the case. Why not? Because of the following safeguards:
  1. There's a screening process - This is not an automatic offer to all first-time defendents. For example if the incident involved a death, the defendent is automatically ineligible for the program. For the rest, there is a screening process. If they pass the screening, then the program is offered as a possible alternative - not before.
  2. There are safeguards in place - While the goal of the program may be treatment, it's not just a counseling program. In addition to classes that deal with drug abuse and several levels of treatment, the program also does urine analyses and electronic monitoring. In other words, it's not just show up for counseling/therapy sessions and go about your life as you please the rest of the time. There are accountability measures in place.
  3. There are no second chances - And finally, once the defendant is in the program he/she is given one chance to succeed and one chance only. Any violations and he's out, without the opportunity to re-enter; and his trial will continue as planned.

So why is this program being offered? With it costing about one-fifth of what a trial costs, money is certainly a part of it. But the bigger reason is the hope of preventing future DWIs. Melissa Munoz, with the district attorney's office and the one in charge of the program, probably said it best when she said:

We are trying to get people who are in need of assistance and need help with their alcohol and their drug abuse problems. .... we're taking as many measures as we can to make sure that [they] .... get the help that they need.
In other words, the hope is that if we can help people get the treatment they need early on, there will be fewer DWIs down the road. And that's a goal that's worth working toward

Friday, May 10, 2013

As Summer Arrives, DWI Cases Will Follow

I'm looking at the calendar for June and can't help shaking my head. I know what's coming. Not only will we have hotter weather with the beginning of summer, but there are some huge special events scheduled for the Houston area that will almost certainly bring a lot more DWI arrests.
To get things going, of course, there's Memorial Day weekend. While Memorial Day itself is observed on Monday, May 27, lots of activities are happening during the weekend:
  • The Astros are playing the Colorado Rockies at Minute Maid Park.
  • Soccer lovers have Memorial Day Cup Houston 2013 on Saturday and Sunday.
  • And the Memorial Weekend Music Festival will fill the Reliant Arena.

That's naming just a few events, but they all have one thing in common: a lot of sports fans and music lovers will quench their thirst with a few icy beers — and then some of them will get behind the wheel and drive home.

Let's look ahead to June:
  • The Caribbean Heritage Month Festival occurs the first Saturday of the month on June 1 — native music, cultural dancing, and authentic foods — a good time for lots of people.
  • June 19 brings the 'Juneteenth' African-American heritage celebration (the 19th was the historic day Texas found out about President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation) to the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park where crowds will enjoy blues, gospel and jazz.
  • And there's Pride Houston on June 22, which is the biggest LGBT event in the Southwest, drawing about 1,000 Houston Pride Parade participants and about 150,000 spectators.

Again, the combination of what will surely be hot Houston temperatures with thirsty crowds tells me my phone is likely to ring more often when some people decide — incorrectly — that they are OK to climb behind the wheel after a day (or a night) of chilling out with some nice chilly brews. The sight of flashing lights in your rear-view mirror would sure put a chill on an otherwise fun event.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Drunk Driving is Serious Even for First Time Offenders

Drunk Driving is a serious matter for any driver. It's costly, can harm your career and lifestyle and comes with heavy fines. However, while repeat offenders face stiffer penalties, driving while intoxicated is a serious offense even if you are a first time offender.

In fact, a first time offender faces many of the same penalties as a repeat offender such as the loss of a driver's license, the possibility of alcohol counseling if deemed necessary, probation and even jail time depending on the outcome of your actions, higher insurance costs and a yearly charge known as a driver's license surcharge, which costs $1,000 and is payable for three years. It doesn't matter what state you're from since the legal limit is .08 or higher in all states and is a class B misdemeanor. For a blood alcohol level above .15, the penalties are stiffer and is now considered a class A misdemeanor.

If you have been accused of driving while intoxicated, you need the help of a defense lawyer that specializes in this type of area. Not only can you sometimes get the charges reduced but in some cases, the charges can be dropped with the right defense attorney.

There's no reason to feel that your situation is hopeless because success stories are a part of many of our case outcomes. We work tirelessly to ensure that you get the best representation possible so that your results are favorable or at the very least, better than without having the right team on your side.

If you have been accused of drunk driving then we will ensure that you get the help you need. Remember that the burden of proof is on the prosecution and we have the tools to make sure your outcome is better than expected.