Potential jurors are often surprised to learn that you can be charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) when you’ve had no alcohol to drink. The term “DWI” is most commonly understood to mean drunk driving. The expectation is that the jurors are going to hear evidence about someone who was driving a car and showing signs of being drunk on alcohol.
The law in Texas makes it clear that intoxication can be caused by any substance you ingest that results in the loss of the normal use of mental or physical faculties. Specifically, the Texas Penal Code defines intoxication as “not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of 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.” Thus, “intoxication” can encompass not only alcohol-related impairment but also the influence of drugs and other substances that can impair an individual’s ability to drive safely. A person can be suspected of being intoxicated and charged with DWI in Texas if they are found to be operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or other substances that affect their mental or physical faculties.
To establish a DWI charge without alcohol involvement, law enforcement officers typically rely on various evidence and observations. Some common indicators include erratic driving behavior, poor coordination, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes and impaired judgment. If an officer suspects impairment during a traffic stop, they may proceed with conducting field sobriety tests (SFSTs) to assess the driver’s physical and cognitive abilities. These tests can include the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, walk-and-turn test and one-leg stand test.
Additionally, law enforcement officers may request a blood test to determine the presence of drugs or other substances in the driver’s system which are not detectible with a breath test. The seized blood is analyzed for the presence of controlled substances. If the results show the presence of drugs or impairing substances that can affect a person’s ability to drive safely, those results can serve as evidence for a DWI charge.
Note, however, that the mere presence of a particular amount of a substance in a person’s blood stream does not equate to intoxication. There are many factors that can impact whether or not a substance is causing the loss of mental or physical faculties including genetic factors, gender, age, body mass index, time of ingestion, amount ingested, tolerance, type of substance, etc. Some drugs can be detectible in blood long after the action of that drug has worn off. The results of a blood analysis alone do not answer the question of impairment when dealing with a non-alcohol potential intoxicant.
Prosecuting a drug-only DWI (or DUID – driving under the influence of drugs) case can be an uphill battle for a prosecutor, especially if the defense is educated on the effects of drugs on the human body. Having obtained a master’s degree in pharmaceutical science and a graduate certificate in forensic toxicology, has been of great benefit to defending my clients, as well as being a consultant on other cases on drug intoxication allegations. If charged with a drug DWI case, it is important to have the right team on your side.
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