July Texas DWI Round-Up: News from Around the State

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This week in our DWI round-up, we’ll be covering news in the DWI world – things like legal changes, new penalties, city hiring and firings, and more.

First-Time DWI Offenders Could Face New Penalties

House Bill 2246 is quickly on its way to a law, and it could affect DWI offenders in a big way. As proposed, the bill would allow first-time DWI offenders to avoid a license suspension by installing an ignition interlocking device on their vehicle instead. The device would cost a fee, and it would require the driver to submit to a breathalyzer test before starting the vehicle. In Bexar County, first-time DWI offenders have been required to use these devices since 2012.

Currently, the bill has gained unanimous approval in the Texas Legislature. It is now in Gov. Greg Abbott’s hands, ready to sign into a bill.

DWI Surcharges Could See Dip Thanks to New Legislation

A new bill was approved by the Texas State Senate that would lessen penalties under the Driver Responsibility Program, a program that has left millions of drivers without a license and facing thousands of dollars in fines annually. Though many of these drivers committed serious traffic violations or DWIs, statistics show that about 60 percent of them have been unable to pay their surcharges. About $1.7 billion is owed to the state to date.

Currently, DWI charges carry the highest fees under DRP to date – $1,000 annually for the first three years and $2,000 when BAC is at least twice the legal limit of .08. Other infractions, like driving without a license or having an expired license, have smaller fees of $250 per year.

Though the program was initially designed to encourage safer driving, a report from the Senate Criminal Justice Committee shows that it’s actually done the opposite. DWI charges have increased drastically, and a higher percentage of those are now dismissed, as defendants are asking for trials rather than deal with the high surcharges. The new bill, if passed by the Texas House of Representatives later this year, could change all that.

Tarrant County DA Questions Lab Tech’s Credibility

The Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office has now sent out more than 180 Brady notices to attorneys who handled DWI cases, misdemeanors, and felonies since October 1 of last year. The DA says the work of Elizabeth Feller, a lab technician with Forensic Laboratories, is now under question. Feller confessed to the DA office that she had been fired from her previous job at Cellmark Forensics for mishandling blood samples – something she had not noted on her employment application with Forensic Laboratories.

Since her hiring, Feller has testified in dozens of Tarrant County cases; however, the credibility of her findings is now being questioned. Forensic Laboratories is still under contract to test Tarrant County blood samples until September 30 of this year during any special DWI holiday enforcements.

New Map Reveals Drunk Driving Spots

A new map from the Austin Police Department reveals the spots where DWI stops and drunk driving accidents happen the most, as well as where the offenders actually live. Formatted like a heat map, this new data sheds light on how truly pervasive the problem of drunk driving is. The map reveals that the biggest spots for DWI stops are downtown and on E. Riverside Dr. (District 2 and District 3). The area with the lowest number of DWI stops is West Austin (District 6). Most of the offending drivers, the map says, live near West Campus, East Riverside, Rundberg and 183, or Highway 71 and Ben White.

Were this map to be created for other cities of Texas (such as Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston), we would see the danger of DWIs from a whole new perspective. DWI stops happen every night, and DWI car accidents continue to harm families and the communities we live in. At Franklin Law Firm, one of our goals is to create a safer community by brining drunk drivers to justice and the families they harm to compensation. Contact us today if you are in need of a personal injury lawyer.

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