Can I Be Ordered to Pay Restitution to the Victim of a Drunk Driving Accident?

A DWI accident is more complicated than a simple drunk driving case simply because there are victims to consider. Even in cases where the victims are not killed or seriously injured, the drunk driver may still be criminally liable to pay restitution to the victims. Under Texas law, a court may order such restitution as part of the defendant’s sentencing upon conviction, provided three conditions are met:

  1. The restitution is solely for the criminal offense committed by the defendant.
  2. The restitution is paid exclusively to the victim or victims of the offense.
  3. The amount of restitution ordered is “just” and consistent with the facts of the case.

Unlike the question of a defendant’s guilt or innocence, which must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the decision to award restitution is based on a “preponderance of the evidence” before the sentencing court. Even under this lower standard, however, the prosecution must still prove the nature and amount of losses suffered by the victims as the result of the defendant’s drunk driving.

Court Upholds $3,500 Restitution Order Following Defendant’s Guilty Plea

Here is an illustration of how Texas judges impose restitution in these types of cases. This is taken from a recent decision by the Texas 8th District Court of Appeals in El Paso, Bujanda v. State, which resulted from a May 2014 DWI accident. Before the sentencing court, the victim testified he was traveling in his car with his family when he saw the defendant’s vehicle “heading directly toward him.” The victim said he tried to move out of the defendant’s path–even driving up onto the curb–but the defendant still managed to hit the driver’s side of his vehicle. The victim said the defendant did not stop at the accident scene, but he managed to take down the vehicle’s description and license plate number. Police eventually located the vehicle “stopped in the roadway,” with the defendant sitting alone in the car’s driver’s seat.

The defendant pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor DWI charge. The judge sentenced the defendant to 180 days in jail–which he probated for one year–and ordered her to pay $3,500 in restitution to the victim. The defendant appealed the restitution order, arguing it was not supported by sufficient evidence. Specifically, she argued the prosecution “failed to offer any proof that she was the driver of the car that hit [the victim], that she was intoxicated at the time of the accident with [the victim], or that her intoxication caused the accident.”

The appeals court rejected these arguments and affirmed the restitution order. The court noted the defendant “did not contest her identity as the driver of the vehicle” at her sentencing hearing. The victim also clearly identified the defendant as the driver. And her “erratic driving” and decision to flee the scene of the accident served not only as further proof of intoxication but also her “consciousness of guilt.”

Speak with a Galveston or League City DWI Accident Defense Lawyer Today

A drunk driving accident can subject you to substantial criminal and civil liability. For this reason, you need to work with an experienced Houston DWI defense attorney whenever you are charged with causing such an accident. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need immediate legal advice or assistance.