Houston Intoxication Assault & Manslaughter Lawyer

DWI assault

Under Texas law, Intoxication Assault and Intoxication Manslaughter cases can result in severe punishments and also present more complex issues than regular driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases. To obtain the best result in an Intoxication Assault or Intoxication Manslaughter case, it is critical to hire an experienced DWI attorney who has experience with these cases from the investigation phase to trial. 

In the Houston area, District Attorneys’ offices have a special division – usually known as vehicular crimes – dedicated to handling Intoxication Assault and Intoxication Manslaughter cases and you can be sure that the most experienced prosecutors will be handling the case on behalf of the State. Attorney Jose Ceja is one of the few Spanish-speaking attorneys in the Houston area to successfully handle Intoxication Assault and Intoxication Manslaughter cases.

How are Intoxication Assault Cases Charged in Texas?

Under Texas Penal Code 49.07, Intoxication Assault is defined as operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated causing “serious bodily injury” to another. Under Texas Penal Code 49.01(2), “intoxicated” mean not having the “normal use” of your mental or physical faculties or having a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher. “Serious bodily injury” is defined as an injury that creates a substantial risk of death or that causes serious permanent disfigurement or loss or impairment of use of a limb or organ. Intoxication Assault is a third-degree felony, carrying a potential punishment of 2-10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. 

Under Texas Penal Code 49.09(b), Intoxication Assault can become a second-degree felony if the defendant caused serious bodily injury to a firefighter or emergency personnel while in the “actual discharge” of official duty, or a first-degree felony if serious bodily injury is caused to a police officer or judge, while in the “actual discharge” of an official duty. Also, if it is shown that the accident caused a traumatic brain injury that left a person in a vegetative state, Intoxication Manslaughter can become a second-degree felony.

How are Intoxication Assault Manslaughter Cases Charged in Texas?

Under Texas Penal Code 49.08, Intoxication Manslaughter is defined as operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, resulting or causing the death of another by accident or mistake. Intoxication Manslaughter is a second-degree felony, carrying a potential punishment of 2-20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. Under Texas Penal Code 49.09, Intoxication Manslaughter can become a first-degree felony if it caused the death of a firefighter, emergency personnel, police officer or judge in the “actual discharge” of their official duties.

How is “intoxication” proved in Intoxication Assault and Intoxication Manslaughter cases?

Because of the seriousness of these cases, they will almost always involve blood samples, so a criminal defense attorney needs to be very knowledgeable regarding the science of blood tests from labs and hospitals. At a minimum, the defense should employ a laboratory expert to evaluate the reliability of the blood evidence in the case, and be prepared to challenge the admissibility of the evidence for legal reasons, including evidentiary violations and arguments that the evidence was obtained in violation of a defendant’s rights (as in the case of a defective warrant to obtain blood), or Texas laws regarding blood draw procedure. Similarly, a criminal defense attorney should be comfortable reviewing medical records and accident reports as any case alleging death or serious bodily injury could include medical records, toxicology reports, and coroner/autopsy reports.

What happens when an accident is not the result of intoxication?

One critical issue in Intoxication Assault and Intoxication Manslaughter cases is known as “causation,” which addresses the question of whether the accident was actually caused by a defendant’s intoxication or would have happened anyway. Under Texas Penal Code 6.04, a person is criminally responsible if the result (in this case the accident leading to death or serious bodily injury) would not have occurred “but for” his conduct. In Intoxication Assault and Intoxication Manslaughter cases, this issue is often stated as whether the defendant’s driving while intoxicated caused death or serious bodily injury, or whether the complaining witness acted in a way to independently cause the accident, regardless of the defendant’s alleged intoxication.

To illustrate this point, let’s imagine a defendant is driving while intoxicated at night on a dark road. Although he is intoxicated, this defendant is driving safely and not presenting a danger to other drivers. If this defendant hits a cyclist who was riding his bicycle in the middle of the roadway with no lights on and in such a way that the defendant could not have seen him coming, the State will have a very difficult time proving that the driver’s intoxication caused the accident, since it is highly likely that the accident would have happened anyway, even if it is later established that the driver was intoxicated.

To establish causation, the State will present accident reconstruction and police officer testimony. A criminal defense attorney should also consult with an accident reconstruction expert that can help establish a possible causation defense. In many cases, causation is the only thing standing between an Intoxication Assault or Intoxication Manslaughter conviction and a conviction for misdemeanor Driving While Intoxicated. Ceja Law Firm has obtained “not guilty” verdicts in intoxication trials where we were able to prove that a defendant’s driving was not the actual cause of an accident.

Defenses to Intoxication Assault and Intoxication Manslaughter

Depending on the facts of the case, there are a wide-variety of potential defenses to Intoxication Assault and Intoxication Manslaughter cases. It is important to remember that properly developing and presenting an effective defense requires a high level of expertise as intoxication offenses are highly technical. Below are the most common defenses to Intoxication Assault and Intoxication Manslaughter:

Defendant was not intoxicated: The most common defense to DWI cases (including Intoxication Assault and Intoxication Manslaughter) is that there is insufficient evidence of intoxication. As noted above, “intoxication” is a defined term in Texas and refers to either a blood or breath result that is .08 or higher, or that the defendant has lost the “normal use” of his mental or physical faculties. In order to challenge the State’s evidence of intoxication, it will be necessary for a DWI attorney to be familiar with the science of breath or blood testing as well as police balance tests and challenge the conclusion that the defendant was intoxicated. 

The accident was not caused by intoxication: As noted above, some accidents are unavoidable and are going to occur regardless of whether or not the defendant was intoxicated. If a DWI attorney successfully challenges the prosecutor’s conclusion that the accident was caused by intoxication, then a defendant cannot be convicted of Intoxication Assault or Intoxication Manslaughter. Successfully challenging the cause of the accident could lead to a verdict of “not guilty” or a conviction for misdemeanor DWI. Very frequently, to challenge the cause of the accident, it is necessary for the defense to work with an accident reconstructionist who can conduct his own investigation and challenge the prosecutor’s conclusions about the actual cause of the accident. 

There was a legal or technical violation: An experienced DWI attorney should always investigate whether the police violated a defendant’s rights in some way that could lead to the suppression of evidence. If evidence is suppressed, that means it will not be allowed in trial, which could lead to the dismissal of a charge, or increase the likelihood of winning a trial. Some examples of legal violations in Intoxication Assault and Intoxication Manslaughter cases include invalid search warrants, statements taken in violation of Miranda or illegal arrests or detentions. 

Other less common defenses include defenses that the defendant was not the one who was driving, or that a defendant was not voluntarily intoxicated (for example, if the defendant was drugged). Of course, the best defense in a case will depend on the particular facts and circumstances of your arrest.

How do you obtain a lower sentence in Intoxication Assault or manslaughter cases?

While developing an aggressive and thorough defense, it is also critical that a DWI attorney develop evidence that can help reduce a potential sentence in the event of a guilty plea or conviction after a trial. This is known as mitigation evidence. The expression plan for the best, but prepare for the worst summaries of this part of the defense.

Given the severity of a potential punishment in an Intoxication Assault or Intoxication Manslaughter case, it is often a good idea for a defendant to take steps to be ready to show a judge that the defendant was proactive in addressing any alcohol or substance abuse problems. This can include obtaining an alcohol evaluation or getting a defendant into alcohol treatment. Attorneys can also take proactive steps like weekly drug tests and/or daily alcohol monitoring to prove that a defendant has avoided alcohol or illegal substances since the arrest. However, before taking any steps to obtain mitigation evidence, it is a good idea to consult with an experienced DWI attorney. 

Is it possible to obtain probation in an Intoxication Assault or manslaughter case?

Under Texas law, certain offenses can be ineligible for probation from a judge or jury. However, probation is generally available in Intoxication Assault and Intoxication Manslaughter cases (an important exception is that if a person is convicted at trial, and the jury finds that the defendant used a vehicle as a deadly weapon, then only the jury can issue probation). Of course, this does not mean that a judge or jury will actually assess probation to a defendant involved in a serious Intoxication Assault or Intoxication Manslaughter case. 

Contact a Houston Intoxication Assault & Manslaughter Attorney Today!

If you are charged with Intoxication Assault or Intoxication Manslaughter, the stakes are huge and it is critical to have an experienced DWI attorney in your corner. If you are charged with either of these offenses anywhere in the Greater Houston area, attorney Jose Ceja is an excellent choice. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.