Paying a high price for breaking the law
HARLINGEN — Drunk driving commands a high price.
You don’t have to kill or injure someone to get in trouble. If you’re caught driving while intoxicated, the law will make you pay.
Consequences for DWI vary widely according to circumstances, said Luis Saenz, Cameron County district attorney.
A first DWI is a Class B Misdemeanor, punishable by a jail sentence of up to 180 days and a $2,000 fine. The second DWI is a Class A Misdemeanor.
The offender can be sentenced to up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. However, if the first DWI shows .15 alcohol level in the blood, it can be considered DWI 2.
“The magistrate or judge is going to order you to install in your vehicle a device to blow in the intoxylizer,” Saenz said. “Your license is going to be suspended 40 days.”
A third DWI kicks the charge up to a 3rd Degree felony punishable for two to ten years in jail.
Or the offender could be given probation. Numerous factors determine the offender’s punishment.
If the first two occurred many years before the third, juries and judges may take that into account.
“In none of those did anybody get hurt,” he said as he gave an example. “In all of those the person ‘behaved,’ didn’t resist arrest, didn’t spit on anybody, didn’t cuss, didn’t threaten anybody.”
Furthermore, if the individual has committed himself to some sort of rehab program to address a drinking problem, he may get probation.
And then there’s the opposite scenario.
“Your DWI 1 was two years ago, your DWI second was last year, and your DWI 3 was this year,” he said. “In one of those you hurt somebody and in the other one you were evading arrest.”
Saenz said DWI misdemeanor cases are extremely hard to prosecute. If a first offender is young, going to college, and has a good job, juries often sympathize with him.
“One of the reasons may be, ‘There for the grace of God it could’ve been me,’” he speculated. “He has no priors, he’s a young man, what they’ll do is, ‘OK, nobody got hurt, not guilty.’”
This, however, doesn’t indicate apathy.
“In general the community is very supportive in our DWI campaign and very supportive in trying to keep drunk drivers from driving,” he said. “The good news is that one DWI conviction is enough for most people. Out of 10 people who get convicted of one DWI, 7 will never get another one.”
He doesn’t believe stronger laws will make a difference.
“I don’t think that the person that’s going to be driving intoxicated is going to be thinking about it,” Saenz said. “He’s not going to say, ‘I could be facing 20 years so I’m not going to do that.’ That person is intoxicated already so we allege that he or she didn’t have her faculties.”