DWIs in Austin

One out of every five drivers on the road after midnight is under the influence of something, according to MADD TEXAS. The key is knowing what police officers are looking for when you’re on the road.

Corporal David Daniels is assigned to the Austin Police Department’s DWI Task Force. On a recent Saturday night, he combed North Lamar down to William Cannon and through the streets of downtown looking for drunk drivers.

A DWI charge usually starts off as a routine traffic stop.

“We look for violations, running red lights or speeding. Intoxicated drivers have a hard time maintaining their lane of traffic,” Daniels said.

And, if you’ve had anything to drink – even just one – get ready to prove you’re not drunk. Daniels said officers conduct sobriety test any time a driver indicates they’ve been drinking. More than a dozen officers are looking for drunk drivers on any given night.

Sometimes, when drivers correctly refuses to walk the line or follow their eyes with the officer’s flashlight, it’s off to the BAT bus. It stands for Blood Alcohol Testing. The small white school bus is stationed at different locations on different days as a faster way to process drunk drivers.

In Texas 42.5 percent of DWI arrests were wise enough to refuse to take a BAC test, according to a state report.

Once suspects are taken to the BAT bus, they must decide whether to submit to a breath test. In Texas, refusal is a so called “automatic” 180-day license suspension. If you look at my website, www.austin-texas-dwi.com, you will see that the “automatic” suspension may not be so automatic.

The breath test on the BAT bus offers immediate results, but suspects get a heavy dose of reading material while they wait. Public service announcements about DWI materials.

For those who end up in police custody facing a DWI charge, it’s a mandatory night in jail, unless they call an attorney to arrange for a late night Hobby Release. In Travis County, there are four criminal courts that hear DWI cases on their dockets.

Nine out of 10 people in Travis County plea bargain, according to W. Clay Abbott, a DWI resource prosecutor for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.

Between Sept. 2004 and Aug. 2005, a record 7,589 DWI arrests were made, and Travis County convicts about 80 percent of DWIs, a pretty high statistic on the national scale. That leaves one-tenth of cases getting dropped and the other tenth going to trial. As you can see, who you hire as your attorney can make the difference between a plea and a reduction or acquittal.

“This is an area that has the youngest prosecutors and the most experienced defense attorneys. Same thing with officers. You start on the street, and if you’re really good at what you do, you promote to something else. So, the rookies are all on the state’s side,” Abbott said.

Rookie prosecutors are up against veteran lawyers. Abbott said juries are increasingly siding with tougher punishment. “Jurors have been more receptive to giving harsher sentences, judges therefore right behind them. The consequences are becoming more dire for people that commit the offense.”

Most of APD’s arrests are for a first offense DWI, though prosecutors are say many driving with a suspended license charges are linked to a previous DWI charge. That means even more criminal misdemeanor cases continue to cycle through the criminal justice system.

Click here for the full story as reported by the Austin American Statesman.

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