Charged with Flying While Intoxicated?

Contact our law firm right away if you are accused of operating an aircraft while intoxicated. Operating an aircraft while impaired by alcohol or drugs is a crime in the State of Texas, and punishments for a flying while intoxicated (FWI) conviction are severe, long-lasting, and could negatively impact your career. According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Texas has more than 25,000 registered aircraft. Flying under the influence of alcohol or drugs can have deadly consequences and should be avoided at all costs.

One of the important things to remember is that if you are convicted of drunk driving on the roadways in Texas, you also have to report that violation to the FAA and you could have your pilot’s license suspended on a temporary basis. If you are a pilot in the military, for a private company, or are employed as a commercial pilot that could mean the end of your career. We urge you to get in contact with Jeff Hampton, an experienced flying while intoxicated defense lawyer.

The FAA and Your Rights and Responsibilities

The FAA is largely responsible for rules governing pilots. The “basic” rule of thumb issued by the FAA regarding alcohol and flying is fairly straightforward; eight hours from bottle to throttle.  Additionally, the FAA states blood alcohol levels should be below .04, which is half of what would constitute DWI or BWI. The low level of alcohol acceptance necessitates that anyone who enters an aircraft with the purpose of being a crewmember should be virtually free from alcohol.

Texas Penal Code For Flying While Intoxicated

Pilots who are found guilty of FWI can face jail time. In fact, even a first flying while intoxicated conviction results in a mandatory jail sentence of 72 hours. Three days in a jail cell may not seem very long but as soon as you’re in the cell you will realize that you were wrong.

Flying while intoxicated is considered a Class B misdemeanor according to Texas Penal Code Ch. 49.05 Flying While Intoxicated. It is also worth noting that Texas will not charge flying while intoxicated charges unless the suspect’s blood alcohol level is .08 or higher.

How Can a Pilot Be Suspected of Flying While Intoxicated in Texas?

Naturally, it’s nearly impossible to stop a flight mid-air and test a pilot for alcohol or drug impairment so some people wonder how it is possible to get charged with FWI in the first place. First, pilots are often subjected to random screenings at airports; a flight plan must be filed and whether you’re a commercial or private plane crew member, you may be tested without warning. It’s also important to be aware there is no need for you to be actually flying a plane; if you are in the cockpit and found to be intoxicated you could still be charged with operating a plane while intoxicated.

One possible scenario that could occur is that your flight is delayed because of weather. You go into the airport lounge and knowing your flight is liable to be delayed for a few hours, you have a glass of wine. Someone in authority notes this and you are asked to submit to a sobriety test. Another possible scenario is a crewmember makes note of specific behavior during a flight they feel could be the result of alcohol or drug impairment and reports that behavior mid-flight. Then a law enforcement officer could be waiting for you, demanding a sobriety test when you land.

What is the Possible Jail Time & Fines for Flying While Intoxicated Convictions in Texas?

Texas law provides a minimum mandatory 72-hour jail sentence for people convicted of flying while intoxicated in Texas. However, since the charge is considered a Class B misdemeanor you could be facing jail time of up to 180 days and fines of up to $2,000.

Your pilot’s license may be revoked or suspended as well so it’s important for you to speak with a criminal defense attorney who understands the charges you are facing and has successfully defended FWI charges before.

If passengers are seriously injured or suffer catastrophic injuries, you could be facing intoxication assault charges. If someone dies in a plane crash that you are accused of piloting while intoxicated, you could be charged with one count of intoxication manslaughter for every person who lost their life.

What Defenses are used in Flying While Intoxicated Cases?

Prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the person they charged was intoxicated and intended to operate or did operate a plane while intoxicated. This can be challenging given the circumstances of the stop and/or arrest. Some of the possible defenses against flying while intoxicated include:

  • Not drinking or drugged – we can challenge the outcome of tests, provide an alternative explanation such as recent use of mouthwash or challenge whether the equipment used for testing was faulty.
  • Challenging based on time – unless a chemical test is performed within four hours of a crewmember coming from a flight, it is possible to claim that any presence of alcohol or drugs may be associated with actions taken well after the flight.

These are some of the basic defenses used in flying while intoxicated cases; a skilled flying while intoxicated attorney can review the situation you are in and help you determine what the best defense may be based on the individual circumstances of your case.

Charges Enhanced When Intoxicated Pilot Injures Passengers

Keep in mind, we’re assuming your arrest occurred because of actions or behavior that created suspicion that resulted in a blood alcohol test.

However, if a flight crew member may also face enhanced charges if the plane was involved in a crash, a passenger reported an injury while flying or a complaint was filed about an erratic flight. Generally when this occurs, toxicology tests for drugs and alcohol may be done automatically to rule out the use of drugs or alcohol.

Hire a Defense Lawyer for Flying While Intoxicated Charges

Being charged with flying while intoxicated should not be taken lightly, particularly if you make your living with your aircraft license. Texas imposes harsh restrictions for people convicted of flying while intoxicated by alcohol, prescription drugs, or over the counter medication. Contact a flying while intoxicated defense lawyer immediately if you are facing charges to ensure your rights are protected and that you have someone to defend you in court. Call 817-435-2909 now to speak with our law firm and schedule a free consultation for FWI defense counsel.