DWI Wrecks Can Lead to Financially Crippling “Restitution”

A DWI-related auto accident can leave you facing not just serious jail time, but also a crippling financial debt. In addition to criminal fines for intoxication assault or intoxication manslaughter, a judge can order you to pay restitution to any victims of the accident. And this can leave you on the hook for a six-figure amount to the court.

Court Sends Defendant to Jail for 10 Years…

Orders $150,000 in Restitution Following Probation Violation

For example, in a recent Texas case, Weisberg v. State, a defendant pleaded no-contest in 2015 to intoxication assault–causing an accident that seriously injured another person–and received a sentence of 10 years in prison and an order to pay over $150,000 in fines and restitution to the victim. The judge suspended the entire sentence, however, and placed the defendant on 10 years community supervision (probation).

Approximately two years later, prosecutors moved to revoke the defendant’s probation. Among other issues, the defendant allegedly violated a key condition of his probation, which was that he not operate a motor vehicle without the use of an ignition interlock–a device designed to measure a person’s blood-alcohol content before allowing the car to start. The defendant admitted he drove a car without the required device, but argued there was a “necessity” that justified his actions.

Neither the trial court nor the Court of Appeals accepted the defendant’s explanation. According to the defendant, he was returning a “missing cable” that belonged to another ignition interlock device that he previously leased from a private company. The defendant used his parents’ car–which did not have a device–to make the return. The defendant nevertheless maintained his actions were necessary to avoid being billed for the missing cable.

But as the Court of Appeals explained, this was not a valid use of the “necessity” defense for someone accused of a parole violation. Texas law requires proof that a defendant’s actions were “immediately necessary to avoid imminent harm.” Put another way, the defendant had to be in a position where he needed to make a “split-second decision” without having time to “consider the law.”

That was simply not the case here, the appeals court observed. The leasing company had already billed the defendant for the missing component but said he could receive a credit if he returned the cable later. This did not rise to the level of an “emergency situation” requiring the defendant to make a split-second decision to avoid some imminent or preventable harm.

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As a result of the defendant’s probation violation, he must not only serve 10 years in jail; he must also pay the $150,000 in fines and restitution. Before the appeals court, the defendant claimed he lacked the means to pay. The court ignored this argument altogether.

So as you can see, the financial consequences of a DWI accident can be quite severe, separate and apart from the threat to your personal liberty. If you are charged with a crime following a car accident and need assistance from a qualified Houston DWI defense attorney, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates right away.