Can I Be Convicted of DWI If Police Find Prescription Drugs on Me?

DWI is not just about alcohol. In Texas you can be prosecuted for driving under the influence of drugs if there is evidence that you did not have “the normal use of mental or physical faculties” due to the “introduction” of any drug or controlled substance into your body. The prosecution does not have to show the exact type of drug involved, only that some intoxicant was present in your system and affected your ability to safely operate a vehicle.

Court of Criminal Appeals Reverses DUID Conviction

Lack of Evidence Cited

That said, prosecutors are not supposed to infer that something other than alcohol led to your intoxication if there is no evidence to support such a claim. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) recently addressed just such a case. Here, a jury found the defendant guilty of DWI. But both an intermediate appeals court and the TCCA threw out the verdict because prosecutors improperly introduced evidence hinting the defendant may have been using prescription drugs at the time of his arrest.

This case began with a rear-end accident. The defendant was the rear driver. A police officer who took charge at the scene said he smelled alcohol on the defendant’s breath. After administering field sobriety tests, the officer believed the defendant was intoxicated.

In a search conducted during the arrest process, officers discovered some pills in the defendant’s jacket. The officers did not take the pills into evidence, nor did they have sufficient training to identify the substance on their own. Yet at trial the jury saw a recording of the arrest where one officer speculated the pills “looked like hydrocodone,” a prescription painkiller. The defendant also confirmed on this recording that he had a valid prescription for the pills.

The jury should never have heard any of this, according to the Texas 11th District Court of Appeals, which initially reviewed the defendant’s conviction. And without any evidence linking the pills to the defendant’s alleged intoxication, the trial judge should not have instructed the jury in the “full statutory definition of intoxication.” In other words, since the only admissible evidence indicated the defendant was under the influence of alcohol, the jury should not have been told it could also convict the defendant if it found he used drugs.

The TCCA agreed with the 11th District’s reasoning. The Court said that “because the pill-related evidence became an integral part of the trial even though there was insufficient evidence to submit that theory of intoxication to the jury,” the defendant’s conviction could not stand.

Have You Been Charged With Driving Under the Influence of Drugs?

Any criminal conviction, even one for DWI, must be based on evidence proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Mere speculation about possible drug use is not enough to convict a defendant of driving under the influence of drugs. That is why if you are arrested and charged, you need to work with an experienced Texas DUID lawyer who knows how to fight–and win–these types of cases in court. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you live in the Houston, Galveston, or League City areas and need immediate criminal representation.