Harris County “time and time again” leads the nation in DWI-related deaths, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said shortly before a multi-agency task force of area law enforcement partners arrested and jailed at least 104 persons for driving while intoxicated between December 29, 2023, and January 1, 2024.
Those arrests were among at least 213 DWI arrests made across Harris County over the holiday weekend, says Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg.
She said multiple DWI command centers were set up so that law enforcement officers could get drunk drivers off the streets as soon as possible.
Others arrested for illegal gunfire in Houston area
Also arrested and jailed in the Houston area over the holiday weekend were 7 persons for firing guns into the air as part of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day celebrations.
According to KHOU Channel 11 News, Finner said Houston Police received hundreds of calls about people shooting guns into the air early Monday morning.
“You’re firing a gun into the air, and a bullet has to land somewhere,” says Andy Kahan of Crime Stoppers. “It’s just absolutely a sickening feeling when you have to talk to a family who just lost a loved one because someone was, quote, shooting a gun up in the air to celebrate the harboring of a new year.” He said such gunfire “isn’t the brightest idea in the world.”
Finner said 3 persons reported that they were struck by stray bullets, but he said their injuries were not life-threatening.
DWI arrests are year-round
Just before the weekend, Finner said the city of Houston had tallied more than 5,100 DWI arrests in 2023.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said another 1,500 DWI arrests had been made in Harris County.
Ogg said thousands of DWI charges had been filed in 2023, and 44 of those charges were filed as intoxication manslaughter.
Intoxication manslaughter can mean 20 years in prison
Intoxication manslaughter is the worst drunk-driving offense. It’s a very serious charge that can carry severe penalties upon a conviction. The charge also can apply if a non-driver causes someone’s death by accident or by mistake due to being intoxicated.
The offense of intoxication manslaughter is a second-degree felony. Upon conviction, that can bring a prison sentence of 2 to 20 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
The penalties can be even worse if the victim is a police officer, a firefighter, a judge or emergency medical personnel engaged in official duties. That would raise the charge to a first-degree felony, which can bring punishments of 5 years to life in prison.
As for an arrest for DWI as a first offense, if a person has a measurable blood alcohol content (BAC) between 0.08% and 0.15%, that is a class B misdemeanor, but if the BAC was 0.15% or more, the offense becomes a class A misdemeanor.
The penalty for a class B misdemeanor in Texas is serving up to 180 days in jail, paying a fine of up to $2,000, or both. The penalty for a class A misdemeanor in Texas is serving up to 1 year in jail, paying a fine of up to $4,000, or both.
Beyond those punishments, a person could have their driver’s license suspended for up to 1 year, even for a first-time intoxication offense. The damage to a person’s reputation and status also could result in them losing employment or job opportunities.
Texas has highest percentage of drunk-driving deaths
According to Forbes Advisor, Texas has the highest percentage of drunk-driving deaths in the United States, with 963 such deaths in 2023. Those represent over 42% of all Texas traffic deaths.
The report also found Texas to be the third-worst state for drunk driving. (Montana and South Dakota were first and second in the survey, which computed results based on per capita population figures.)
Texas also ranked as the second-worst state for the share of drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes (8.3 per 100,000 licensed drivers).
Forbes also said Texas had the third-highest rate of drunk drivers under the age of 21 who were involved in fatal crashes.
Get the best Houston-area DWI defense lawyer
If you or a loved one faces a charge of DWI in the Houston area, you must get the best DWI defense lawyer or attorney you can find.
Keep in mind that being charged with DWI or some other intoxication offense in Texas doesn’t mean that you’re guilty and will be convicted by a jury. But you will need a skilled, knowledgeable and experienced DWI defense lawyer to handle your case.
What are defense strategies for a DWI charge?
As for what DWI defense strategies may be possible to fight such a charge, your drunk driving defense attorney may be able to establish that arresting police officers lacked a legal reason to stop you.
Perhaps it also could be argued that you were not legally intoxicated. To prove intoxication, it must be shown that the driver had a BAC of more than 0.08%. In addition, it could be established that legal methods were not used to take breath or blood samples to measure your alcohol intake.
Even if such a test was taken legally, it could be asserted that the results were not accurate because breathalyzers and blood tests often are unreliable. Around the country, thousands of breathalyzer tests have been thrown out of court as evidence due to such unreliability.
It also may be possible to establish that you were not, in fact, the driver of the motor vehicle in question.