Under Texas law, if a person is convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI), in addition to any sentences or fines imposed following the conviction, he or she may face increased penalties for any subsequent DWI convictions.
A Texas Court of Appeals recently clarified, however, that while prior DWI convictions may be considered during the sentencing phase of any DWI conviction, the State is not permitted to introduce evidence of prior DWI convictions as an element of the offense charged during a trial to assess guilt or innocence. If you are charged with a DWI, you should consult a seasoned criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss your available defenses.
The Defendant’s Trial
Reportedly, the defendant was charged with DWI. The information stated that she committed the offense of DWI on October 25, 2014. Additionally, it stated that on June 12, 2012, she was convicted of a DWI and therefore, the current offense was elevated from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor.
At a pretrial hearing, the defendant objected to the prosecutor offering any evidence of her prior DWI conviction or reading the information to the jury, due to the fact that it was not an element of the charged offense and was highly prejudicial. The court overruled the defendant’s objection and specifically held that her prior conviction was an element of the charged offense. During the trial, the prosecutor read the information and the defendant stipulated to her prior DWI charge. The jury found the defendant guilty, after which she filed an appeal.
A Prior DWI Conviction is Not an Element of a Subsequent DWI Offense
On appeal, the defendant argued that a prior DWI conviction is not an element of the offense and is only relevant for purposes of punishment enhancement. Thus, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in allowing the State to read the information regarding her prior DWI conviction. The court stated that recent Texas criminal court rulings definitively ruled that a prior DWI conviction is not an element of a DWI offense, but merely allows for a punishment enhancement upon conviction. As such, the court found that the trial court erred in allowing the prosecutor to introduce information regarding the defendant’s prior conviction at trial.
Although the court found that the trial court committed an error, it stated that it nonetheless could not reverse the trial court judgment unless it found that the error was harmful. In its analysis, the court noted that the evidence of the defendant’s prior DWI conviction was prominently featured during her trial.
Additionally, the trial court advised the jury it could not convict the defendant of the offense charged unless it found she had a prior DWI conviction. Therefore, the court found that evidence of the defendant’s prior DWI conviction significantly affected the verdict. Accordingly, the court reversed the verdict and remanded the case for a new trial.
Meet with an Experienced Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Regarding your Case
If you are charged with DWI, it is prudent to meet with an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney to discuss the circumstances surrounding your arrest and potential defenses to the charges you face. Rick Davis is an effective Texas criminal defense attorney who will advocate aggressively on your behalf. Mr. Davis can be contacted at (979) 779-4357 or through the online form to schedule a consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas Rules Failure to Object Does Not Constitute Consent to a Mistrial, October 12, 2018, Rick Davis & Associates Blog