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District Attorney Brett Ligon Proud to Support State Representative Will Metcalf’s HB1327 Relating to Increased Penalties for Driving While Intoxicated Offenses

On January 27, 2017, State Representative Will Metcalf (District 16) filed HB1327 relating to enhancing the penalty for Intoxication Assault and Intoxication Manslaughter in certain circumstances. Under this legislation, a person who drives while intoxicated and causes the death or serious injury of another person could face a much stiffer punishment when certain “aggravating factors” are present.

Under current law, when a person causes the death of another person while driving while intoxicated, they are typically charged with Intoxication Manslaughter, a 2nd Degree Felony with a range of punishment from probation up to 20 years in prison. When a person causes serious bodily injury to another person while driving while intoxicated, they are typically charged with Intoxication Assault, a 3rd Degree Felony with a range of punishment from probation to 10 years in prison.

But, in the Texas Penal Code (Section 49.09), there are a few aggravating factors or circumstances that can increase the range of punishment. For instance, if the person killed in the crash is a peace officer, firefighter, or EMS, the 2nd Degree Intoxication Manslaughter charge becomes a 1st Degree Intoxication Manslaughter, with a range of punishment from probation to Life in prison. Or, if the injuries suffered by a DWI victim are in the nature of traumatic brain injury that results in a persistent vegetative state, the 3rd Degree Intoxication Assault charge becomes a 2nd Degree Intoxication Assault with a range of punishment from probation to 20 years in prison.

Metcalf’s HB1327 would add additional aggravating factors to Section 49.09 to increase the ranges of punishment for Intoxication Manslaughter and Intoxication Assault. Those aggravating circumstances would include:

– When more than one victim is seriously injured or killed during the same crash

– When a child (person younger than 17 years of age) is seriously injured or killed in the crash

– When the DWI suspect failed to stop and render aid to a victim after the crash

– When the DWI suspect was operating the vehicle prior to the crash without a valid driver’s license or insurance

– When the DWI suspect was evading or fleeing from law enforcement prior to the crash

– When the DWI suspect has a prior conviction for DWI

District Attorney Brett Ligon: “We are very pleased to hear that Representative Will Metcalf has filed legislation to address the ongoing tragedy that is DWI in Texas. Unfortunately, Texas continues to lead the nation in DWI related fatalities and Montgomery County suffers more than its fair share of DWI related crashes. Metcalf’s proposed legislation would increase the ranges of punishment in the most serious of cases and provide true justice for victims. The legislation is well written, reasonable, and an extension of already existing law. We are proud to support it and we are sure that it will help law enforcement and prosecutors throughout the state in the fight against DWI.”

 

Zachary Stephenson, Chief of Staff/General Counsel for Representative Will Metcalf 512-463-0726 / [email protected]

Applicable Texas Examples:

In 2015, a Montgomery County jury sentenced Alejandro Guzman-Lopez to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for intoxication manslaughter for the death of Bradley Frazier and 20 years in prison a $10,000 fine for intoxication manslaughter for the death of Shea Frazier. The judge ordered that those sentences be served consecutively. The jury also sentenced Guzman-Lopez to 20 years and a $10,000 fine for two counts of Failure to Stop and Render Aid resulting in death for fleeing the scene after crashing into Bradley and Shea’s vehicle, as well as 20 years and a $10,000 fine for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for the injuries to Bradley and Shea’s two-year old and five-week old daughters that were in the vehicle with them. They also sentenced the defendant to 5 years in prison for Failure to Stop and Render Aid causing bodily injury for the two young children.

Guzman-Lopez was apprehended by a Good Samaritan and held until law enforcement arrived. A sample of his blood showed his blood alcohol concentration was more than twice the legal limit and that he had used cocaine and marijuana. Guzman-Lopez did not have a driver’s license or insurance and was in this country illegally after overstaying a visa from several years earlier. Despite the fact that he was sentence to the maximum amount of time in prison under the law for each of the eight offenses (totally 130 years), the law currently only provides that the two intoxication manslaughter charges could be ordered to run consecutively.

Additionally, when given the opportunity to sentence defendants to the first degree felony punishment range, whether because the victim is a first responder, or the defendant is facing a felony murder charge because of prior intoxication convictions, juries routinely impose sentences above the second degree punishment range.

• In 2012, a Harris County jury sentenced Johoan Rodriguez to 55 years in prison for intoxication manslaughter for the death of Houston Police Department Officer Kevin Will.

• In 2010, a Denton County jury sentenced John Patrick Barton to two life sentences for felony murder (DWI- 3rd fatality crash) for the deaths of Kandace Hull and her 13-year-old daughter Autumn Caudle.

• In 2009, a Montgomery County jury sentenced Harold Blain Schmidt to life in prison for felony murder (DWI-3rd fatality crash) for the death of Lexie Edwards Haynes. That same jury also sentenced him to 10 years in prison for intoxication assault for the injuries to Cheryl Haynes that occurred in the same drunk driving crash.

Both Barton and Schmidt were facing first degree punishment ranges because they had two prior DWI convictions. Under this bill, the facts of their cases would have justly resulted in them facing that same punishment range without having been caught and convicted for DWI before, and Guzman-Lopez would likely have received a similar sentence.

These are just a handful of examples where juries have had the opportunity to sentence a defendant within a first degree felony punishment range for these offenses and they have understandably sentenced those defendants to the maximum that the law allows. The law currently does provide that sentences can be stacked; however, that is left to judicial discretion and even if a defendant was to receive the maximum sentence under the law of 20 years in prison for each person’s death, a defendant would have to kill 5 people to be potentially facing up to 99 years in prison.

Montgomery County Data (2010 to 2015):

– In 2015, 45% of crashes were DWI related in MOCO as compared to 39% for the State of Texas.

– 74% of DWI crashes occurred in rural, unincorporated areas of MOCO.

– Since 2010, there have been 172 DWI fatalities in MOCO.

– The average BAC for a DWI in MOCO is .172.

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