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Secrets of the Texas Criminal Justice System and Your Rights
The Texas DWI statutes prohibit operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated in a public place, and any aspect of this crime can be disputed in court. A common defense is to argue that the accused was not actually intoxicated at the time they drove a car. In some cases, however, there may be a dispute as to whether the accused was actually operating a motor vehicle. As a result, it is critical for Amarillo attorneys and defendants to understand the definition of driving as it pertains to DWI cases.
What Does it Mean to Operate a Motor Vehicle in TX?
Texas has a statute commonly known as driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence. While this is common shorthand, the actual statute prohibits operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated in a public place. Interestingly, there is no statutory or case law definition of exactly what “operating” means.
There have been several court of criminal appeals cases that have attempted to address the definition of operation. However, all of the cases have held that there is no strict definition of operating a motor vehicle. Operation is basically whatever a jury thinks it is in trial.
For example, suppose a jury of six people finds an Odessa resident guilty of driving while intoxicated and the case is appealed. The appellate courts will examine the facts specific to that particular case, and they may try to determine if the individual’s behavior constituted driving. However, there is no case law that says “operating means X.”
How the Definition of Driving Impacts a DWI Case
Neither the defense nor the state will be able to tell the jury, “This is what operation means.” This provides the defense with opportunities to contest whether or not the defendant was actually operating a motor vehicle. As a result, defense attorneys may ask the jury to consider why people operate motor vehicles.
Typically, the reason a motor vehicle is operated is for transportation. Someone uses a vehicle to get from point A to point B. If the defendant was not attempting to drive the car anywhere, a skilled lawyer may be able to raise this issue in their defense. For example, someone may be arrested for DWI while living or sleeping in the vehicle for protection. They could be arrested even if the car was not in drive and not moving.
Can a Passenger be Charged with DWI?
In certain circumstances, a passenger may be charged with DWI if it is unclear who was driving the vehicle. When the state is trying to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone was driving while intoxicated, remember that evidence can be defined in two ways. First, someone could have direct evidence. For example, a police officer may see the vehicle moving, pulls the individual over, and identify the person in the drivers’ seat. That’s direct evidence.
There is also circumstantial evidence. For example, there could be a car crash in Amarillo that no one witnessed. By the time the police arrive on the scene, there are two people sitting outside the vehicle, neither of which admits to being the driver. The government may then use circumstantial evidence to try to prove which individual was driving. A passenger could be arrested if police do not identify the correct person.
Discuss Your Case with an Amarillo Attorney
Depending on the circumstances of your Amarillo DWI arrest, arguing that your behavior does not constitute driving may be a strong defense. This argument can be difficult to present in court effectively, however, making assistance from a skilled attorney critical. To get started on your defense, call now and set up a consultation.