How Can a DWI Lead to a Felony Murder Charge?

A DWI accident can quickly turn into a murder case based on the circumstances. Texas allows for what is known as “felony murder” charges in some fatal drunk driving accident cases. Felony murder refers to a type of murder charge that is distinct from premeditated murder. With felony murder, prosecutors need not prove the defendant intended to kill the victim. Instead, the basis for the murder charge is that the defendant caused the victim’s death while committing another felony.

In Texas, a DWI is a felony if the defendant has two prior drunk driving convictions. So if the defendant accidentally killed someone while committing a third DWI, that can be charged as felony murder under Texas law. If convicted, the defendant faces life imprisonment.

Houston Court Rules Warrantless Arrest of Felony Murder Suspect Was Unconstitutional

Given the gravity of a felony murder charge, it is essential police officers uphold a defendant’s constitutional rights when investigating a fatal DWI accident.

In a recent decision, State v. McGuire, the Texas First District Court of Appeals here in Houston held a trial judge properly suppressed evidence in a DWI-related felony murder case after holding police illegally arrested the defendant without a warrant. While warrantless arrests are permissible under certain circumstances, the appeals court said the prosecution failed to approve any of these exceptions applied.

Here is some background on the case. The defendant was driving his truck one evening and struck a motorcyclist. The motorcyclist subsequently died as a result of his injuries.

After the accident, the defendant went to a nearby gas station. Police at the accident scene were told the defendant “was waiting at” the gas station. The police went to the gas station and proceeded to arrest the defendant and take a sample of the defendant’s blood without taking a warrant.

Based on the results of the defendant’s warrantless blood test and the fact he had two prior DWI convictions, prosecutors charged him with felony murder. A jury subsequently convicted the defendant of murder. In 2016, the First District reversed that conviction based on the unconstitutional warrantless blood test.

Prosecutors decided to retry the defendant. Prior to the new trial, the defendant argued the arrest itself was unconstitutional as police lacked a warrant, and none of the statutory exceptions applied. The trial judge agreed and granted the defense’s motion to suppress.

This time the prosecution appealed. But the First District upheld the trial court’s ruling. As the appeals court explained, a warrantless arrest in these circumstances require proof of “exigent circumstances” that “call for immediate action or detention by the police.” Here, the prosecution simply never presented proof that such exigent circumstances existed. Instead, the prosecution argued the law did not require such an exigency. The Court of Appeals disagreed, noting the specific exception relied upon by the prosecution did in fact require an exigency.

Get Help from a League City or Galveston DWI Accident Lawyer Today

If you have been arrested for a DWI that resulted in someone else’s death, you are likely facing serious legal consequences. You need advice and assistance from a qualified Houston DWI accident defense attorney who can help ensure the courts respect your constitutional rights. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need to speak with a lawyer right away.