A DWI accident that causes the death of another person is considered second-degree felony manslaughter in Texas. Police and prosecutors will not go easy on a defendant just because the victim was a family member, or even if the defendant himself was seriously injured. That said, in their zeal to prove a defendant’s guilt, police must still obey certain constitutional requirements, especially as it pertains to conducting involuntary searches of a defendant’s blood.
Texas Appeals Court Tosses DWI Accident Warrant Based on False Police Affidavit
In fact, a Texas appeals court recently reversed an intoxication manslaughter conviction because a police officer’s “reckless disregard for truth,” in the Court’s words, rendered a subsequent search warrant for the defendant’s blood illegal.
This tragic case arises from a 2014 motorcycle accident. The defendant and his wife were traveling on their motorcycle through Corpus Christi late one evening. According to an eyewitness who testified at the defendant’s trial, he saw a motorcycle leave the parking lot of a bar and dart across the road. The witness said the motorcyclist was “driving erratically” through traffic.
Although the witness lost pace with the motorcycle, he later came upon the scene of the accident. He saw the motorcycle from earlier and “two people on the ground,” the defendant and his wife. Emergency medical personnel arrived at the scene. The defendant’s wife was already dead, and the defendant was in a coma.
A police officer also attended the scene and traveled to the hospital with the defendant. While the defendant was still unconscious, the officer prepared an affidavit in support of his request for a search warrant of the defendant’s blood. The officer used a pre-printed affidavit form. Some of the paragraphs contained statements that did not apply to the defendant’s situation. For example, one paragraph stated the officer requested and conducted “field sobriety tests” of the suspect–which obviously did not occur since the defendant was in a coma when the officer found him. Nevertheless, the officer neglected to cross out the inapplicable paragraphs.
While this might sound like a technicality, filing a false or incorrect affidavit is a serious breach of due process. A magistrate issued the requested search warrant based on inaccurate information. At trial, the judge struck the offending paragraphs from the officer’s affidavit, yet held the warrant itself remained valid because the officer still had “probable cause” to demand a blood test.
The Texas 13th District Court of Appeals did not see it that way. While mistakes or “simple negligence” in an affidavit do not automatically invalidate a warrant, an officer who makes false statements intentionally or with a “reckless disregard for the truth” does. The appeals court noted the latter applied here. And removing the false statements from the affidavit, all the officer had to go on when he asked for the search warrant was (1) the fact the defendant was lying unconscious in the road and (2) the officer’s perception of “a strong odor of alcohol” emanating from the defendant. The 13th district said that was not enough for probable cause.
Even without the results of the defendant’s blood test, however, prosecutors may still be able to prove the defendant’s guilt at a future retrial based on other evidence, such as the eyewitness testimony.
Contacting a Houston Lawyer Following a DWI Accident
If you are seriously injured in a car accident, your first priority should always be to seek medical treatment and get well. But if police suspect that you were drinking at the time of the accident, you need to contact an experienced Galveston DWI accident attorney as soon as possible. The Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates can assist you in handling any kind of drunk driving charge. Contact us today in League City to schedule a free initial consultation.