The Harris County Grand Jury indicted a woman for two counts of Intoxication Manslaughter on June 20, 2014. Harris County Sheriff deputies claim the accident occurred on Feb. 7, 2014. Investigators estimate that the suspect was driving at nearly 100 mph when her vehicle struck a car making a turn. Both the driver of the struck car and a passenger in the suspect’s car died as a result of the accident. At the time of the crash, deputies suspected both drivers had been drinking; they had both been at clubs earlier. The news did not report any blood alcohol concentration of the suspect. Since the grand jury returned an indictment, presumably evidence of DWI exists.
Intoxication can be caused by substances other than alcohol. Even if the suspect in this case was under the legal limit of alcohol, or had no alcohol in her blood, it is possible some other drug or medication had been taken that could cause a DWI. There is no legal limit with any drug. Evidence must show that a driver did not have normal mental or physical faculties as a result of taking a medication or drug in order for DWI to be proven when no alcohol is involved.
The news report did indicate that the suspect driver was seriously injured in the crash. She was life-flighted to a Houston area hospital the morning of the crash. It was unreported if the deputies obtained the suspect’s medical records, or if they obtained a blood sample to send for forensic testing. The delay in presenting the case to a grand jury may suggest prosecutors were waiting for a forensic blood test result to be available from the Harris County Institute of Forensic Science.
It is common however for officers to try to simply obtain a blood alcohol measurement from a suspect’s medical records. In these cases, officers simply call the District Attorney’s office and ask for a grand jury subpoena. The prosecutor will fill one out and sign it, and fax it to the officer at the hospital. This is common even when there is no grand jury investigation pending, and in some misdemeanor DWI cases that will never even concern a grand jury. In these cases, it is important for lawyers representing these people to reveal these misrepresentations to the courts.
The proper procedure is for officers to complete an affidavit, describing the probable cause to suspect the driver may be intoxicated, and then apply to a judge to approve the search for blood alcohol. The above-mentioned procedure gets a result quicker, but there are many reasons why these results are questionable in court.
Another interesting issue in this crash is the fault in the accident. The news report indicated that the deceased driver was turning left into a parking lot across FM 1960. Generally, vehicles turning across lanes of forward-moving traffic are required to yield to the right of way of the vehicle traveling straight. The high alleged speed of the suspect vehicle could arguably over-shadow the unsafe turn.
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