February 2009

My internet stats program for this blog – Mint – keeps track of IP addresses associated with various searches as well as other interesting (if you’re a geek) tidbits of information. Tonight I saw the following string of searches, which started five weeks ago:

How long does a DWI case take in Travis County?

Of course the answer to this question, like all of those that don’t provide enough information to properly answer, is… it depends. But let me see if I can do better than that anyway. The discovery process – getting the video, offense report, intoxilyzer records if it’s a breath test case, and sitting down at least once to substantively chat with a prosecutor about your case? – will take at least three to four months, sometimes longer.

Several more uncontested settings and at least one contested pretrial setting on a motion to suppress can be several more months, depending primarily on availability of the officer and your lawyer’s schedule.

How long will you be on the jury docket if you don’t work out a plea? I talked to a client earlier today and his case is a year and half old. We are just now bubbling to the top of the jury docket in that court. (I’d say that’s a little unusual, but it’s by no means record-setting either.)

Next search, some time later, same IP:

Travis County DWI No Contest

Can’t tell if this is part of a “do I have to hire a lawyer” stage. Since the first search is only five weeks ago, it seems a tad early to be hearing this from your lawyer, but who knows? Maybe it’s just ‘background’ research on what happens. Next query:

Transcripts of ALR hearings

Seems like something a lawyer might Google if they were trying to learn some good cross examination questions. Or maybe the client wants to know how much something like that might cost. Next search, a little later still:

What if officer does not appear at ALR hearing?

A lawyer would know the answer – I hope – to this one, so maybe this really is a defendant trying to figure out how things work. Assuming the officer has been properly subpoenaed, and DPS doesn’t have ‘good cause’ for his absence, it should be dismissed. (But don’t hold your breath – I’ve objected to and been overruled on some pretty flimsy ‘good cause’ issues at SOAH.)

What if my attorney did not get an ALR hearing?

Well now things have taken a turn for the worse. The next search/same IP provides us some insight into the mystery:

My attorney did not request ALR because I passed breath test did not take a blood test

“I see,” said the blind man. I think I’ve figured this out. You told your lawyer that you passed the breath test – blew under .08 – and I hope for your sake that you told him about the blood test part.

Was your license confiscated? Did they ask for blood after you passed the breath test? If you refused the second test, they may have issued the DIC paperwork and started the license suspension process. Including that 15 day period you’ve been reading about – at least since you started doing your own internet research.

I think it’s good advice for the lawyer to request an ALR in every case, including when the potential client comes in and says, “I passed the test”. First, I’ve had cases where clients told me, “They said I blew .07”, but we find out later there was some confusion about the “.0” part. (i.e., “.17”)

Second, if DIC paperwork was issued, it has to be done. DPS is basically just a big bunch of computers. There are humans too, of course, but by and large they are there to correct the computer errors. Some clerk receives a Notice of Suspension from a police agency, enters the info, and that 15 day time limit starts ticking.

Third, DPS considers passing the breath test but refusing the next round of blood tests to actually be a refusal. And more importantly, back to point number two, if the computers were fed the information about the notice of suspension, and you/your lawyer didn’t do anything then the “Automatic” License Revocation kicked in.

Something like this came up recently – although I can’t find the email so the details might have differed – on either the Texas criminal defense lawyer listserv or the Texas DWI defender listserv, and Houston DWI lawyer Troy McKinney properly referred the questioner to Texas Transportation Code 524.012:

(c) The department may not suspend a person’s driver’s license if:

(1) the person is an adult and the analysis of the person’s breath or blood specimen determined that the person had an alcohol concentration of a level below that specified by Section 49.01(2)(B), Penal Code, at the time the specimen was taken;

Unfortunately section (d) continues:

(d) A determination under this section is final unless a hearing is requested under Section 524.031

So it’s a moot point without the request. Sounds like your lawyer woulda, coulda, shoulda… Or maybe I’m missing something, who knows?

Continue Reading Questions: One Always Seems to Lead to Another

I was in District Court most of the morning and saw an interesting set of events. As they unfolded, I paid more and more attention, but I’m sure I missed some details at the beginning. Here goes:

First: A prosecutor, a cop, defense lawyer Oscar Buitron, and the defendant at the bench. Testimony was being taken in a DWI case. Something about a CAD report and whether or not the officer really had called in to dispatch to check the license and registration on a vehicle as he had previously sworn under oath.

I suspected, and later confirmed, that it was some sort of continuation of a pretrial hearing that had already occurred. The officer was insisting that he indeed had called in to check the vehicle, but he was squirming, uncomfortable. Just a little bit. He’d testified before, so he was almost holding his own.

But it was obvious from the questioning that Oscar thought he could prove the officer was being… let’s say… untruthful. And more importantly that he had the goods to prove it. Then out came the CAD report itself (of course).

I had other things going on, but my interest was piqued and I managed to catch something about “if you press this button here”, “then you press that button there”, “blah blah blah”. They were up at the bench, no microphones, I didn’t catch everything being said.

After testimony concludes, there’s some chatter about resetting it to another-another-pretrial setting so that Oscar can bring in some more witnesses (APD officers no less) who will be able to show that the arresting officer’s testimony – that he had called it in, that dispatch had called him back and said the registration wasn’t current, but that he had then manually deleted that information from the CAD report itself – was impossible. (Never mind nonsensical. “Gee, let me take some time out of my busy day to erase the confirmation that this was a good stop.”)

Second: Probably 15/20 minutes later I’m chatting with that prosecutor about something completely unrelated, and the bailiff walks up to him and says, “The officer wants to talk to you”. He motions to the jury room. The prosecutor excuses himself from our conversation and leaves.

Third: Another half hour later… the defendant is back at the bench entering a plea. To back time on a misdemeanor.

Now I don’t need to see parts one and two to know that as a general rule when a defendant walks up to the bench in Felony Court and pleads to a misdemeanor, that he’s getting a significantly above average deal in his case. Never mind that it was back time: no probation, no more jail. Oscar was obviously well prepared and had gotten a good result.

By the way, I left it out of the initial description, but the prosecutor had brought out other traffic violations for the court to hang its hat on, so this was – despite the testilying – no slam dunk win for the defense.

I talked to Oscar afterwards (who among us doesn’t love it when one of our brothers or sisters ekes out a victory) and found out some more details.  It was a habitual case. The defendant had (at least) two prior pen trips and was looking at a minimum of 25 years if convicted on the indictment.

More invigorating (perplexing? commonplace?) still was that Oscar hadn’t known this would pop up during the first pretrial. The officer had already listed in his PC affidavit, and testified to traffic violations that weren’t demonstrably false, when he decided to just “add” the testimony about calling in the license to dispatch. (This is a favorite police “excuse” in my experience. Which is foolish because it’s one of the easiest to catch them on.) Nothing mentioned about it though in the PC or the offense report.

Oscar’s BS detector went off. He asked the judge to continue it, rechecked the tape which confirmed his memory that the officer appeared to discover that the vehicle was unregistered well after the stop, and ordered the CAD.

Mostly though, it’s that second step listed above that intrigues me so. The cop in the back room sweating and “needing to talk” to the prosecutor.

What exactly did that officer tell the prosecutor, when the bailiff alerted him that he needed to “confer”? I’ve never worked for the State, so I can only imagine the possibilities…

  • “Hey I’m not sure how intoxicated he was after all. Can you work out a deal?”
  • “Please drop this case… I don’t want to come back on it. Ever.”
  • “Quick question for you… what’s the penalty for perjury again?”

Despite the banner proclaiming that the writer “won’t hide behind an alias” I couldn’t figure out the blogger’s name; his alias is Feisty – or based on the URL, is it perhaps Feisty Geek? – but he sure brings up a good point in his “DWI Hypothetical”.

The hypo assumes that Joe Blow gets stopped by the police while driving, investigated for DWI, refuses (politely, we hope) to do any of the proffered field sobriety tests, and then, after being arrested is asked whether or not he wants to take a breath test:

The officer then asks Joe to take a breath test for intoxication.  Joe’s thinks for a moment, and responds:

Joe: Am I under arrest?

Officer: Yes

Joe: Do I have the right to remain silent?

Officer: Yes

Joe: Do I have the right to an attorney before I answer any questions?

Officer: Yes

Joe: Well, I now invoke my right to remain silent and to have an attorney before answering any questions.

Officer: Will you submit to a breath test?

Joe: Officer, that sounds like a question. I have already said that I invoke my right to counsel before answering any questions.

Officer: Huh?

Great hypothetical, and we can see where the lay-legal reasoning is leading us. Heck, it’s where the legal-legal reasoning leads me too.

If I’m under arrest, and I now have the right not to answer any questions without an attorney present, I probably shouldn’t answer questions without legal advice. Especially questions like “Will you take the breath test?”

Sounds like this is exactly the situation where I should consult a lawyer familiar with DWI procedures. Feisty continues and takes a stab at answering his own hypothetical question:

If you don’t refuse the test, but instead just refuse to answer the officer’s question as to whether you will take the test, that might not pass muster as a refusal, particularly when you’ve invoked your constitutional rights as the basis for not answering the question.

Anyone know if this might work?

Unfortunately, at least in Texas, there is caselaw directly on point that is not favorable to this position, at least from the DWI suspect’s standpoint. A refusal to answer the question at all is “taken as” or “deemed to be” a refusal. And that will hold up in an ALR hearing. And on appeal.

Alas our Joe Blow is tagged with a 180 day No-Blow ALR refusal driver’s license suspension. Well, 180 days… assuming it’s a first time DWI. There’s a potential enhancement to a full two years if our hero has a prior alcohol related contact.

But Feisty hits the nail on the head with his last observation:

Obviously, anyone coherent enough to go through that conversation without slipping up probably isn’t that intoxicated, even though they might blow a .08 if they tested.

Exactly. The DIC-24 Statutory Warning reads “If you refuse to give a specimen, that refusal may be admissible in a subsequent prosecution.” The intent is to blackmail the suspect into giving a sample.

But in fact, as Feisty points out, it’s just as easily evidence that you are not intoxicated.