Presumption of Innocence? Not For Some Texas Legislators...

From today’s Austin American Statesman article about an unsuccessful attempt to reverse the presumption of innocence for DWI cases in Texas:

A third proposal would have simplified the method used for determining a person's blood-alcohol content at the time he or she was driving.

The proposal, House Bill 915, by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, would have specified that if a driver's blood-alcohol content is higher than the legal limit of 0.08 within 90 minutes of being pulled over, the driver would be considered intoxicated.

"Right now, the problem is you have to prove they were intoxicated while driving," Aycock said. [Emphasis Mine]

So it’s a problem that the State has to meet their burden of proving guilt beyond all reasonable doubt? A problem that can be fixed with some legislation?

Fortunately, this bill was voted down by the House Law Enforcement Committee. I’ve written previously about the “Rising BAC defense” that is available to some DWI defendants in Texas. Being over .08 at the time of the breath test does not necessarily mean you were over .08 at the time of driving.

But some lawmakers objected to “forcing” the State to prove their case, so they attempted to create a presumption that any breath test within 90 minutes of driving would automatically do the trick.

David Gonzalez, counsel for TCDLA and also a local Austin DWI lawyer hit the nail on the head when he…

…said the bill would create a presumption of guilt.

"What that really means is, we need to make it easy for convictions, and when science and other things get in the way, let's disregard them," Gonzalez said.

Politicians can’t change the science of breath or blood alcohol testing…and Texans should continue to object to illogical manipulations of DWI statutes.

Life in Prison without any Intent to Commit an Offense

Grits for Breakfast comments on a new bill recently filed in the Texas Legislature that would increase the punishment for Intoxication Manslaughter from a second degree felony to a first degree felony, if the victim was an on duty police officer or firefighter.

In layperson terms, that means the maximum punishment would increase from 20 years in prison, to 99 years or life, again, if the victim was a police officer or firefighter.

The punishment for Intoxication Assault would increase from a third degree felony (max 10 years) to a second degree felony (20 years). Intoxication Assault means committing a DWI and causing serious bodily injury, but not death. Again, the increased penalty is for police and firefighters. From Grits’ piece:

If you think a police officer's life is more important than every other citizen and want to exact maximum vengeance, which is all this bill accomplishes, fine ... say so.

But to claim boosting sentences in these rare cases will reduce drunk driving is a politically motivated lie, plain and simple. It will do no such thing.

Some of the proof is in the bill itself. Why is it limited to on-duty police officers and firefighters? Is their life “worth less” when they take off the uniform?

One of the aggravating factors that can increase murder to a capital offense is the victim being an on duty fireman or police officer, but even that requires an element of intent. From Section 19.03 of the Texas Penal Code:

the person murders a peace officer or fireman who is acting in the lawful discharge of an official duty and who the person knows is a peace officer or fireman;

So “plain” murder becomes capital murder, when it is shown that the Defendant knew the victim was a police officer or fireman.

And that illustrates exactly what is wrong with this new piece of legislation. The Texas DWI statutes in Chapter 49 of the Penal Code specifically do away with the typical requirement in criminal cases that there be any intent. Section 49.11(a):

§ 49.11. Proof of Mental State Unnecessary.

(a) Notwithstanding Section 6.02(b), proof of a culpable mental state is not required for conviction of an offense under this chapter.

So we explicitly acknowledge that DWI and related offenses are crimes without intent...so what is the increased penalty for? The random chance that the victim is an on-duty police officer or fireman.

And how can it logically be argued that increasing the penalty for some categories of victims will reduce the rate of DWI, when there is no underlying intent to commit the crime in the first place?