How Taking Prescription Drugs Before Driving Can Lead to Murder Charges in Texas

A felony DWI can become a murder charge if someone dies at the hands of a legally intoxicated driver. Texas follows what is known as a “felony murder” rule. For example, if you have two prior DWI convictions in Texas, the third DWI is prosecuted as a felony. But if that third DWI also involved an accident that killed another person, prosecutors can also charge you with felony murder–i.e., a death arising from the commission of another felony.

Polk County Woman Sentenced to 55 Years Following Death of Motorcyclist

Just recently, a Texas appeals court upheld the felony murder conviction of a woman from Polk County, who was charged in connection with the 2016 death of a motorcyclist. On the day in question, a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper responded to the accident scene, which involved an SUV and two motorcycles that had collided on FM 356.

The defendant was the driver of the SUV–the defendant in this case–was taken to the hospital with serious injuries. Meanwhile, the trooper investigated the accident. He recovered the defendant’s purse, which contained a “prescription bottle of hydrocodone-acetaminophen” and other medication. Later, the trooper interviewed the defendant at the hospital. The trooper said the defendant “appeared to be under the influence of medication,” noting that “[her] movements were slow and deliberate, her eyes appeared glassy and bloodshot, [and] her speech was slurred.”

The trooper arrested the defendant of intoxication assault and intoxication manslaughter. But a grand jury later indicted the defendant for felony murder. The indictment alleged the defendant had two prior DWI convictions–making a third DWI charge a felony–and therefore the motorcyclist’s death fell within the felony murder rule. A jury found the defendant guilty of all charges and sentenced her to 55 years in prison.

On appeal, the defendant raised two issues. First, she argued the jury was unfairly prejudiced when the prosecution introduced autopsy photos of the deceased motorcyclist into evidence. Second, she maintained there was insufficient evidence to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that she was intoxicated on the night of the accident, which was a necessary element of both the felony DWI and felony murder charges.

The appeals court rejected both issues and affirmed the defendant’s conviction. With respect to the autopsy photos, the court said the fact the images were “gruesome” did not render them inadmissible as evidence. As for the evidence supporting intoxication, the Court pointed to the medication bottles recovered by the trooper, as well as his personal observations of the defendant at the hospital. Additionally, laboratory tests confirmed the presence of the medications in the defendant’s blood, and a state expert testified at trial these drugs “can cause drowsiness, mental confusion, and slowed reaction times.”

Speak with a Houston DWI Accidents Defense Lawyer Today

Driving under the influence of prescription drugs is just as illegal as driving under the influence of alcohol. And if someone dies as the result of such a DWI accident, you may be facing a murder charge and the potential for decades behind bars. So, if you have been charged with any crime following a possible DWI accident and need assistance from a qualified criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City today.