I have been arrested for DWI, can I go to Canada?

Seems like the simple answer would be, "Sure, no problem."  However, Canada, unlike any state in the United States, considers an arrest and conviction for DWI, DUI or drunk driving a felony offense.  In the all US states, a first time offender for DWI is a misdemeanor offense unless there are aggravating circumstances (death involved, serious bodily injury, child passenger, etc.).

If Canada knows about your DWI (whether the case is still pending or you have been convicted of the DWI /DUI), they may not allow entry into Canada.  We have heard of US citizens being refused entry into Canada because of the DWI / DUI arrest with no conviction.  In fact, we have been informed that there have been US citizens that have flown into Canada only to find out that they must immediately board a plane and return home.

If you have a DWI conviction and are planning a trip to Canada and live in the Houston area, call a Houston DWI lawyer to discuss what needs to be done to gain pre-approval to travel to Canada before being denied at the border.

DWI - You Can't Afford It

Our firm represented a client in Dallas today.  While I was driving home from the airport, I saw a large billboard that said that the average DWI arrest in Texas costs $17,438.  I have seen this figure before and it seems about right based on our experience in DWI cases.

There are fines of up to $2,000 for a first time offender as well as surcharges on your Texas Driver's License of up to $6,000.  These costs are in addition to probation fees, increased insurance premiums (assuming you don't lose your privilege to drive), and court costs that can be as high as $500.  

I guess the government or whoever is responsible for funding the billboard are trying to use this as a deterrent to people driving while intoxicated. 

But, what about the people that are falsely arrested for DWI or those that are ultimately found to not be intoxicated?  Even more of a reason to hire a DWI lawyer that devotes the majority of his/her practice to defending DWI / DUI cases.

Police using threat of forced blood draws to fight DWI / Drunk Driving

As I wrote last week, Houston Police officers are being trained to draw blood on those suspected of drunk driving / DWI.  According to an AP report on September, 13 2009, cops are on patrol with tasers, guns and  now syringes.

Police officers are increasingly looking at needles as a new weapon to fight driving while intoxicated cases.  Instead of looking objectively at the results of rediculous balancing tests, the police are now relying on citizens blood to gather evidence.

Again, for the record, this type of search is in my opinion unreasonable and violates the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  We should not allow Houston Police Officers to draw blood fo Houston citizens in a Houston DWI arrest.

HPD Vampires - Cops taking our blood against our will

An elected Harris County Criminal Court Judge and a former HPD DWI task force officer confirmed this week that HPD is in the process of training police officers to draw blood from suspects arrested for DWI / DUI.  Wow - the police are now going to be in charge of arresting citizens (normal police function) and also performing a medical procedure (not a normal police function) on a person who is presumed to be innocent (supposedly).

Is it just me, or do others find this to be an incredibly disturbing new revelation?  I expect that a person drawing my blood (for whatever reason) would have medical training and experience in dealing with the problems that might arise when drawing blood.  The police should stick to what they do - arresting people - and let medical personnel handle the taking of blood.

I'm no medical professional, but what if a citizen suffers from hemophilia or any other blood clotting disorder?  Is the cop that takes the blood going to even ask any questions before he/she sticks a needle in someone?

Unfortunately, Houston is not the only city trying to train its officers to forcibly take blood from Texas DWI suspects.  Austin is right there with Houston and there are bound to be many others.  Let me know your thoughts.

Doesn't take long for police to take blood without a warrant

The new Texas DWI law that allows police officers to take blood without a search warrant or any other judicial involvement went into effect September 1, 2009.  According to the Harris County District Attorney's office, over the Labor Day weekend the police forced 6 citizens to give blood - even though they refused to allow the blood sample and the police did not have a warrant.  They also forced 32 other individual to give blood pursuant to a search warrant.

As a group, we should renounce the new law and tell our legislature we do not condone our government intruding into our bodies.  Our founding fathers are turning over in their graves thinking that our state legislature has given the Government so much power.

When are we going to say enough is enough?  Let's keep the government out of our homes and out of our bodies.  The government has no business intruding into our bodies and homes.  Each and every time the legislature meets, more and more of our freedoms are taken away.  Let's also remember that a DWI in Texas is a misdemeanor, barring prior convictions, serious bodily harm / death, or a if there is a child passenger.


What's in a name DPS?

I learned from my friend and fellow blogger Paul Kennedy that the Texas Department of Public Safety has officially changed its name for the breath alcohol testing program in Texas.  The new name - Texas Forensic Breath Alcohol Laboratory Service.  DPS also made another name change - the Technical Supervisor is now called a "Forensic Scientist."

So what else has changed in the program to warrant these changes?  Absolutely nothing.  You might wonder why they changed the name if nothing else in the program has changed.  My guess - they are trying to sound more "scientific" and therefore trying to give the program more credibility in court.

The breath testing program has had its fair share of problems.  Remember the Deetrice Wallace scandal? The HPD crime lab problems (the DWI breath testing program is part of the crime lab)?  It seems they are trying to put a new spin on an otherwise problematic department.

Can I get my old DWI case off my record?

The answer depends on the final outcome of the your previous DWI.  The only way to remove an old DWI case from your record is if your previous case was dismissed or if you were found "not guilty" by a judge or jury.   If you were convicted and paid a fine, went to jail or were on probation, you are not eligible to have your record cleared.

If your case was dismissed and the statute of limitation has run (2 years on a misdemeanor case) or you were found "not guilty" by a judge or jury, the legal process to remove your DWI case from your record is called an expunction.  The expunction process is governed by Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 55

The expunction process can take several months to complete.  In a nutshell, your DWI lawyer would file a Petition for Expunction asking a District Court Judge to order the entities that were involved in your DWI case to destroy any and all records relating to your DWI arrest.

Civilians doing field sobriety tests, breath tests and arresting our citizens

According to a former Houston Police Department DWI task force member, HPD is in the process of hiring and training civilians to assist in Houston DWI investigations.  These civilian "helpers" will be trained to perform field sobriety tests and also trained to operate the breath test machines. 

This means these civilians, not police officers, will be aiding and making decisions to arrest our citizens.  Who do you think will be signing up and interviewing for the civilian positions?  Probably those people with the biggest ax to grind and those that are affiliated with MADD and other organizations like MADD.   FYI - this is not a criticism of MADD.  I'm just not sure we as citizens want people with an agenda making decisions to arrest our citizens. 

Based on my experience as a Houston DWI lawyer, it just doesn't pass the smell test to let civilians make these type of life altering (for the person arrested for DWI) decisions.  Even though we all know that cops are not always without bias, at least they have been to the police academy and are suppose to be neutral observers - not advocates.  What's next?  Are we going to let civilians start making traffic stops?  Drug raids?  Prostitution Stings?

Even prosecutors know that practicing Field Sobriety Tests help

I was speaking to a young Harris County prosecutor recently about a DWI trial she had tried.  I asked her about the case and she said that she lost because the defendant did the field sobriety tests 3 times and only the 3rd results of the test were captured on video.  She said, "of course he looked good on the tests (on the video), he got to practice them 2 times before the tests were recorded."

So, what do I take from this?  It's obvious form this short conversation that at least some of the Harris County prosecutors understand that practicing these field sobriety tests are difficult for those that have never done the tests before.  There is also an acknowledgment that if given the opportunity to practice the tests (like the cops have done many, many times), a person accused of DWI may in fact not look intoxicated.  Yet, it's these same prosecutors that get up and demand that juries find these individuals guilty of DWI. 

Maybe a better course of action would be to have the cops give the tests 2-3 times before making a decision to arrest.  Maybe if the citizen is given the opportunity to practice, he/she would not look intoxicated.  I guess that would be too much to ask of our police when they are trying to label a citizen a criminal and stigmatize that person with a DWI / DUI conviction.

Image: Oregon DOT

Ex parte communication leads to prosecutor getting a continuance

I had a motion to suppress scheduled for a hearing last Thursday in Harris County.  The hearing was scheduled to determine the admissibility of blood results from a hospital blood draw in my Houston DWI case.  I show up and approach the Judge with the prosecutor that was handling the case.  The following is the dialog that transpired:

Prosecutor:  Judge, this is the case we talked about yesterday.

Me:  Judge, I don't remember being a party to that conversation.

Judge:  I don't remember anything about a conversation about this case.

The problem is, there is not suppose to be any communication between the Judge and a party to the lawsuit without the other party being present.  These are the rules that we are all suppose to play by.  Unfortunately, not all of the Judges, prosecutors and I'm sure defense lawyers always play by those rules.  All I ask for in my profession is a level playing field where everyone follows the rules - including prosecutors and most importantly Judges.

So what was the outcome of the hearing you might wonder?  The case was reset for the second time at the request of the prosecutor over our objection both times.  Go figure.