Earlier this month, the Texas Supreme Court denied without comment an appeal by country music legend Randy Travis attempting to prevent public release of his 2012 DWI arrest video. Mr. Travis had filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Attorney General seeking an order to prevent release of the arrest video. In 2016, the Third Court of Appeals in Austin had ruled that the video was a public record and had to be released. By denying Mr. Travis’s petition for review, the Supreme Court allowed the ruling of the Third Court of Appeals to stand.
It is worth noting that Mr. Travis filed a civil lawsuit against the Texas DPS and the Attorney General seeking to prevent release of the video. This was not part of the criminal case against Mr. Travis. And it is for that reason that the final say rested with the Texas Supreme Court and not the state’s highest criminal court, the Court of Criminal Appeals.
This is not a surprising result, as it is clear under Texas law that arrest videos are public records and it is equally clear that public records are subject to disclosure to news media and others. We suspect that Mr. Travis and his lawyers did not expect to be able to prevent release of the video but were instead hoping to drag out the process as long as possible so that when the video was finally released the news media and the internet would have moved on to other stories.
If you have been charged with DWI in Tarrant County (including Fort Worth, Arlington, Keller, Grapevine, Colleyville, Hurst, Euless, Bedford, Haltom City and many other municipalities), you need a Tarrant County Criminal Defense Attorney with experience handling DWI cases. At Blake & Blake LLP, we are experienced Fort Worth DWI Attorneys who can help you achieve the best outcome in your case. Give us a call at 817-440-4444 or you can contract us via email at [email protected] or [email protected].
Should Texas kill driver responsibility program?
This Fort Worth Star-Telegram article discusses an important DWI-related to topic being addressed in the Texas legislature. The Driver Responsibility Act (DRA) was enacted in 2003 and the intention was to impose fines and surcharges on Texas drivers who have been cited for moving violations. The system is based on points, where drivers receive two points for a typical moving violation and three points for a violation that results in an accident. A driver who has “earned” six points would be required to pay a $100 surcharge each year the points are on their license, and points stay on a driver’s record for three years. For Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) offenses, the surcharges are much larger. A driver convicted of a first DWI incurs a $1,000 per year surcharge. A driver convicted of a DWI with a blood alcohol content (BAC) greater than 0.15 incurs a $2,000 surcharge.
The surcharges are under widespread attack in the legislature because most believe that they have proven to be counterproductive. The goal was to make Texas drivers better and to provide funding for hospital trauma centers. But in practice, the large surcharges have forced many Texans to stop driving at all, costing them employment opportunities and even family relationships. They have also resulted in many Texans driving without a license at all. This is a terrible outcome that makes Texas roads and highways more dangerous because these drivers have no liability insurance.
There are various proposals to eliminate or reduce the surcharge. One plan proposed by a Tarrant County legislator would reduce or waive DWI surcharges for drivers who participate in drug court programs. It will be of great interest to see what the legislature does on this topic. Like many things the government does, a good intention does not guarantee a good result. With surcharges, the idea was to use fines to encourage Texans to become better drivers and to fund needed hospital services. But the result has been counterproductive as high surcharges have caused many Texans to lose their ability to drive at all.
Following up on a previous post about breath or blood tests for drivers suspected of marijuana DWI (also known as “drugged driving”), here is an NPR item from last year about difficulties in testing drivers for marijuana impairment. Unlike alcohol where breath and blood tests have long been available, and reasonably accurate, accurately testing either blood or breath for marijuana levels is not possible with current technology. In addition, marijuana blood levels are inherently different from alcohol because THC (the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana) is fat-soluble. THC behaves very differently from alcohol in the body. The above-linked NPR article quotes Professor Margaret Haney of Columbia University: “[T]hat changes everything. ‛It’s really difficult to document drugged driving in a relevant way . . . [because of] the simple fact that THC is fat soluble. That makes it absorbed in a very different way and much more difficult to relate behavior to, say, [blood] levels of THC or develop a breathalyzer.’ ”
The fat solubility of THC means that it can rapidly leave the blood stream and enter body fat, including the brain which is a very fatty organ. Because of this, an occasional marijuana user might see a rapid drop in their blood THC even though they are still high enough to be considered impaired. A test measuring THC levels in their blood would not accurately reflect their level impairment. On the other hand, regular users of marijuana have the opposite problem: their body fat may store THC for weeks after they have used marijuana and this THC will leach into their blood stream. A blood test given to a regular user of marijuana may thus show relatively high levels of THC even though they are not impaired by marijuana at all.
Marijuana edibles present another issue. According to Professor Haney: “With oral THC, it takes several hours for [blood THC] to peak, but it remains very low compared to the smoked route, even though they’re very high. It’s a hundredfold difference.”
These factors make testing people suspected of DWI for marijuana very difficult. This article notes that lawmakers want a single number – like the 0.08 BAC presumption for alcohol intoxication – to define marijuana intoxication for DWI purposes. But, for the reasons mentioned, a person’s level of impairment is not closely related to their level of blood THC. Occasional users may be impaired at a much lower THC level – and the THC level in their blood may fall below the legal cutoff very rapidly even though they still show signs of impairment. But a regular marijuana user may have blood levels above the legal limit when not impaired at all and even weeks after they have consumed marijuana. All of these issues make marijuana DWIs inherently hard to prove.