Court of Criminal Appeals Affirms DWI Manslaughter Conviction

One of the basic rights you have in any Texas criminal prosecution is the right to “confront” the witnesses against you. For example, if prosecutors charge you with a crime stemming from an alleged DWI accident, you have the right to confront and cross-examine any witnesses who analyzed the evidence introduced against you at trial. But such rights are not without limits. In many cases, the law imposes certain time limits to invoke your confrontation rights or otherwise object to the state’s failure to comply with due process.

Did the Prosecution “Substantially Comply” with the Law?

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently addressed one such limitation in Williams v. State. This case arose from an apparent DWI accident that took involved the death of a pedestrian. The defendant in this case was driving his vehicle when it struck and killed a jogger. The defendant fled the scene, but was later found by police.

The police suspected the defendant had been drinking prior to the accident. Officers obtained a search warrant to take a blood sample from the defendant. This sample was then sent to two different laboratories–one in Texas, the other in Pennsylvania–for testing. The Pennsylvania test revealed the presence of several drugs in the defendant’s blood, including amphetamine and methamphetamine.

Under Article 38.41 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, when the prosecution seeks to introduce a laboratory analysis report into evidence, it must also include a certificate, signed under oath, that provides certain information about the analyst who performed the testing. The prosecution must present this certificate at least 20 days before trial. Once presented, the defendant then must file an objection to the certificate within 10 days of trial to preserve any objection, including the constitutional right to confront a witness.

In this case, the prosecution filed a certificate within the 20-day deadline. The defense did not make an objection within the 10-day deadline. But when the prosecution introduced the report at trial, without calling the analyst as a witness to testify, the defense objected, citing the right of confrontation. The trial judge overruled the objection. The jury later convicted the defendant of manslaughter and failing to stop and render aid following an accident.

The question before the Court of Criminal Appeals was whether the defendant “forfeited” his right to object by not doing so prior to trial. The defendant argued that the certificate presented by the state did not “substantially comply” with Article 38.41, since it did not establish the analyst who signed the certificate was actually the analyst “who tested his blood.” And since the certificate did not comply, it could not have triggered the requirement for the defendant to object prior to trial.

By a vote of 7-2, the Court of Criminal Appeals rejected these arguments and affirmed the defendant’s convictions. The majority held the certificate was in “substantial compliance,” and therefore it did trigger the defendant’s duty to object before trial. The Court went on to clarify that “substantial compliance” does not mean the certificate must be signed by the analyst who performed the test. If the defendant wishes to confront the actual analyst, he can still do so provided he objects within the statutory time period.

Contact a Houston, League City, or Galveston DWI Accident Defense Lawyer Today

In DWI accident cases, it is critical for a defendant to assert their rights in a timely manner, particularly given the severe penalties that can follow a conviction. If you need assistance from an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates right away.