A DWI accident often leads to criminal charges, especially if another person is seriously injured or killed. And if a defendant finds a defendant guilty of intoxication assault or intoxication manslaughter, the prosecution may seek to introduce evidence of other “bad acts” committed by the defendant in pushing for the harshest sentence possible under Texas law.
Jury Sentences Defendant Who Caused Fatal Accident
Prior Illegal Gun Possession Conviction Has an Impact!
The Texas First District Court of Appeals here in Houston recently confronted such a case. In Amende v. State, the defendant had been drinking at a restaurant in Austin. He decided to drive himself home despite his intoxicated state. After driving his vehicle in excess of 100 miles per hour and running several red lights, the defendant eventually hit another driver, who died at the scene.
Defendant Pleaded Guilty but Opted for Jury Sentencing
The defendant pleaded guilty to intoxication manslaughter, as well as intoxication assault against his girlfriend, who was a passenger in his car at the time of the accident. Although the defendant admitted guilty, he still opted to have a jury trial to decide his sentence.
Criminal History of Defendant Reviewed
During the sentencing trial, the prosecution sought to introduce evidence related to the defendant’s prior criminal history. In 2006, some nine years before the accident, the defendant was convicted of felony cocaine possession, for which he served five years in prison.
After his release, the plaintiff started selling drugs again. In 2012, he “shot and killed another person” during a botched drug deal. However, a grand jury subsequently issued a “no-bill,” declining to indict the defendant on criminal charges arising from the shooting.
The trial judge did not allow prosecutors to mention the shooting or no-bill to the jury. But while cross-examining the defendant, who elected to testify, the prosecution was allowed to ask about the fact the defendant was in possession of a firearm during the 2012 shooting. This mattered because it is a third-degree felony in Texas for a convicted felon to be in possession of a firearm.
Jury Levies Hefty Sentence, Defendant Argues for New Trial
After hearing this and other testimony, the jury assessed the defendant’s sentence at 28 years on the intoxication manslaughter charge (and five years for the intoxication assault of the defendant’s girlfriend). On appeal, the defendant argued he was entitled to a new trial because the evidence of his prior gun possession should have been kept from the jury.
The First District disagreed and affirmed the sentences.
The appeals court explained that the evidence regarding the defendant’s gun possession “rebutted” his own testimony that he only “sold small amounts of marijuana after struggling to make a living” after his release from prison. By informing the jury of the defendant’s illegal gun possession, it allowed the prosecution to offer “a more accurate impression of the likely recurrence of criminal behavior and to help the jury determine what sentence [the defendant] should receive.”
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Consult a Skilled Defense Lawyer Today
As you can see, a criminal charge arising from a DWI accident can end up putting other parts of your past on trial as well. This is why it is critical to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney whenever you are facing an intoxication assault or intoxication manslaughter charge. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you have been involved in an accident and require legal advice or assistance.