Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer Examines Texas’ Recently Enhanced Penalties for Intoxication Assault and DWI with High BAC

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Houston criminal defense lawyer Matt Horak analyzes the passage of DWI-related House Bill 1199, which became effective in September 2011, and the impact it will have on drivers throughout Houston. The new DWI laws provide for increased penalties for intoxication assault offenses and for drivers who have a high blood or breath alcohol concentration level.

Under the DWI new laws in Texas, anyone that has a BAC of .15% or higher for a first DWI offense can be punished the same as a repeat DWI offender, stated Houston criminal defense lawyer Matt Horak.

The Texas legislature recently amended several driving while intoxicated laws by enhancing penalties for driving while intoxicated with a high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level and for intoxication assault. Matt Horak, a criminal defense lawyer in Houston, discusses the effect the new laws will have on residents throughout the Houston area.

Matt Horak, a Houston DWI defense lawyer, stated “The Texas legislature has routinely attempted to change DWI laws in Texas over the past several years. Although the new laws became effective in September 2011, many of the state’s citizens are not aware of these changes. If drivers knew they could face increased penalties for certain DWI offenses, they may choose to drink and drive less.”

House Bill 1199 provided for two changes to Texas laws regarding driving while intoxicated (DWI) offenses. The first change affected section 49.04 of the Texas Penal Code, which covers the blood or breath alcohol concentration level required for driving while intoxicated offenses. HB 1199 increased penalties for alleged offenders who had a BAC over a certain limit.

Prior to the change, Texas law did not differentiate between DWI offenses with a high BAC and DWI with a low BAC. Previously, no matter what the driver’s BAC was measured at, they would be charged with the same degree of offense as other drivers in their same situation. Now, an individual who has a BAC of .15% or higher can be charged with greater penalties than a driver charged with DWI while their BAC is under .15%.

Specifically, the newly enacted section 49.04(d) of the Texas Penal Code states that an analysis of the driver’s blood, breath or urine showing an alcohol concentration level of .15 or more at the time of the test can result in a DWI offense with increased penalties.

An individual who is charged with a high BAC DWI under the new law can be convicted of a Class A misdemeanor. This degree of offense is punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine up to $4,000. This offense was previously punishable as a Class B misdemeanor, which could result in up to 180 days in jail and/or a fine up to $2,000.

According to Horak, a first DWI attorney in Houston, “Previously, a first DWI offense could result in a Class B misdemeanor conviction, regardless of the driver’s BAC, and a second DWI offense was punishable as a Class A misdemeanor. Under the new DWI laws in Texas, anyone that has a BAC of .15% or higher for a first DWI offense can be punished the same as a repeat DWI offender. Anyone who hasn’t had very much to eat that day, has a low weight, has had very little sleep, or is affected by anything else that can increase their BAC can face much harsher penalties for a first DWI offense.”

Horak added, “The new law does not state when the chemical blood or breath test must be taken in order to determine the driver’s level of the BAC, the new law also does not take into consideration if the driver was in the absorption or elimination state at the time of the chemical test, and the legislature gives no reason as to why .15 was determined to be the measure for high BAC.”

House Bill 1199 also increased the penalties for an individual charged with certain intoxication assault offenses.

“An individual who is now charged with intoxication assault that results in traumatic brain injury can face a conviction for a felony of the second degree; previously, intoxication assault was only punishable as a felony of the third degree, no matter what the serious bodily injury was,” said Horak, an intoxication assault attorney in Houston.

The new intoxication assault law amends the enhanced DWI offenses and penalties section of the Texas Penal Code (codified in section 49.09), by adding sub-section (b-4), which states that an intoxication offense is a felony of the second degree if at trial, it is shown that the alleged offender caused another person traumatic brain injury that resulted in a persistent vegetative state.

The Texas Penal Code section 49.07 states that an individual can be charged with a felony of the third degree intoxication assault offense if they cause serious bodily injury to another person while operating a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated.

The potential penalties an individual could now face for a second degree felony intoxication assault offense that causes traumatic brain injury can include a fine up to $10,000 and/or a prison term ranging from two to 20 years. A general intoxication assault offense, which can result in felony of the third degree conviction, is punishable by a fine up to $10,000 and/or a prison sentence ranging from two to ten years.

Matt Horak of the law firm Matt Horak, Attorney at Law, PLLC is a criminal defense lawyer in Houston who represents men, women and juveniles accused of driving while intoxicated (DWI), high BAC DWI and intoxication assault throughout Houston in Harris County and the surrounding areas of Conroe, The Woodlands, Missouri City, Sugar Land, Alvin, Pearland, Liberty, Cleveland, Katy, Baytown, Pasadena, Galveston and Clear Lake.

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