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Will Texas DWI Laws Finally Become Fair? Maybe.

Last week, Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire finally acknowledged the elephant in the room of Texas drunk driving laws — what DWI law applies to you when you’re pulled over depends upon where you’ve been stopped.

As Whitmire explained to the media, “You need to be selective about where you want to get caught drinking, I guess.”

Driving Drunk? Better to Get Caught in Houston than New Braunfels

State Senator Whitmire is pointing the finger at how nonsensical the current DUI system is, telling the media,  “Why would the state of Texas have a criminal-justice system in Houston that will completely allow you to have no record, and in the New Braunfels experience, you do (have a record), and then you go to Bexar County and they don’t even file on you (for) DWI the first time?”

Houston DWI Practices

Over in Houston, the Harris County District Attorney has established a DWI program where first-timers pleading guilty to a DWI offense will be given a probated sentence, as well as mandatory alcohol treatment, community service, and one of those alcohol-testing ignition lock gizmos.  Do everything right, and the first timer’s conviction disappears.  Nothing on their driving record.   

Skip over to New Braunfels, Different Story

That’s the truth of it:  drive under the influence in Harris County, and you’ll walk away with zip on your record.  Do the exact same thing in New Braunfels, about 20 miles north of San Antonio on IH 35, and you’ll have a blight on your driving record for years to come. 

You get pulled over in New Braunfels for driving while intoxicated, and you’re gonna get a DWI on your record.  Which is a big deal, of course.  (Remember this at Wurstfest in November, the huge German sausage festival held in New Braunfels every year.)  

Whitmore points to unfairness of “checkerboard” DUI system coupled with the current legal surcharges.

Whitmire’s doing two things.  He’s blowing the lid off the various DUI prosecutorial treatments that exist in different parts of the state.  And, he’s calling for the Texas Legislature to repeal the Driver Responsibility Program.

We’ve written about these surcharges before.  There not cheap, and they’re not getting paid.  Currently, for a DWI conviction, the surcharge is $1,000 a year for three years for a first conviction; $1,500 a year for the second; and $2,000 a year for any conviction with a blood-alcohol content of 0.16 or greater.  You don’t pay, and your license gets suspended. 

All that means, of course, is that people who can’t afford to pay the surcharge just drive anyway – with a suspended license – hoping they won’t get caught. 

Can Whitmire Really Change Things from the Current DWI Unfairness?

John Whitmire is trying to change things.  Can he?  Well, Whitmire is becoming a congressional spokesperson for the blatant injustices that exist in the DWI / DUI system in Texas today.  He’s also using his position as Committee Chairman to create a group of experts to come up with recommendations for a truly uniform way of dealing with suspected drunk drivers in all the various 200+ Texas Counties.

What’s really going on here is District Attorneys trying to find creative ways to deal with budget problems and a huge backlog of drunk driving cases on their books.  So, it’s really about money.  Surprise. 

Will Whitmire be bold enough to address THAT elephant in the room?  We’ll see ….

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