For obvious reasons, Intoxication Assault and Intoxication Manslaughter cases are extremely serious cases that need to be handled thoroughly and aggressively by an experienced criminal defense attorney. These cases can result in severe punishments and also present more complex issues than regular driving while intoxicated cases. The District Attorney’s office has a special division – usually known as vehicular crimes – dedicated to handling these offenses and you can be sure that the best and most experienced prosecutors will be handling the case on behalf of the State. If you are charged with either Intoxication Assault or Intoxication Manslaughter it is critical that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.
Under Texas Penal Code 49.07, Intoxication Assault is defined as operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated causing “serious bodily injury” to another. “Serious bodily injury” is defined as 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, Intoxication Assault can become a second-degree felony if that the defendant caused serious bodily injury to firefighter or emergency personnel while in the “actual discharge” of an official duty, or a first-degree felony of 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 traumatic brain injury that left a person in a vegetative state, intoxication manslaughter can become a second-degree felony.
Under Texas Penal Code 49.07, Intoxication Manslaughter is defined as operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, 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.
Because of the seriousness of these cases, they will almost always involve blood samples, so a criminal defense attorney needs to be very comfortable with understanding and challenging blood draw evidence 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 will include medical records, toxicology report and coroner/autopsy reports.
One hugely important issue in Intoxication Assault and Intoxication Manslaughter cases is known as “causation.” Under Texas Penal Code 6.04, a person is criminally responsible for an offense 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 that was the “but for” cause of the injury or death.
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 fine – not speeding and not swerving – and not presenting a danger to other drivers. If this defendant hits a cyclist who was riding his bike in the middle of the roadway with no lights on 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, so it is critical that this area be thoroughly investigated.
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.
While developing a strong and thorough defense, it is also critical that a defendant develop mitigation evidence that can help reduce a potential sentence in the event of a guilty plea or verdict. The expression plan for the best, but prepare for the worst summaries this part of the defense. Mitigation evidence is any evidence that tends to justify a lower sentence. Where appropriate, this can include 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. It is also a good idea to develop a list of character references who can testify and/or write letters of character reference on behalf of a defendant that can be used for possible sentencing.
Being charged with Intoxication Assault or Intoxication Manslaughter can be extremely difficult but an experienced criminal defense attorney can ensure that you have the best outcome and put a tragic incident behind you. If you are charged with either of these offenses anywhere in the Greater Houston area, attorney Jose Ceja is an excellent choice. Call today to schedule a free consultation.