In this article, I want to break down the negotiation tactic many DWI and criminal lawyers employ to reduce a DWI charged in Texas to the non-alcohol related crime of Obstruction of a Highway or Roadway. When does it happen? How can a lawyer do this, and does it make sense to accept this option?
Before we analyze this option as a plea deal for a DWI case, let us first examine the crime of Obstruction of Highway. What does Texas criminal law say about the crime of Obstruction of Highway?
If you have been arrested for the misdemeanor crime of Obstructing Highway or Passageway (Obstruction of a Highway or Roadway) you should call The Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys, PLLC immediately to discuss your legal options.
Receiving a criminal conviction for Obstructing Highway or Passageway can carry with it serious financial and long-term consequences. In addition to being fined up to $2,000 by the State of Texas, a conviction for Obstruction of Highway can result in the loss of your employment, a tarnished reputation and a limitation on future employment and advancement opportunities.
The most common situation where an individual is arrested for Obstruction of Highway is when a person stops their motor vehicle in traffic and holds up traffic and refuses or is unable to move their vehicle.
However, according to Texas Penal Code Section 42.03, A person commits the crime of Obstructing Highway or Passageway if, without legal privilege or authority, he intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:
(1) obstructs a highway, street, sidewalk, railway, waterway, elevator, aisle, hallway, entrance, or exit to which the public or a substantial group of the public has access, or any other place used for the passage of persons, vehicles, or conveyances, regardless of the means of creating the obstruction and whether the obstruction arises from his acts alone or from his acts and the acts of others; or
(2) disobeys a reasonable request or order to move issued by a person the actor knows to be or is informed is a peace officer, a fireman, or a person with authority to control the use of the premises:
- to prevent obstruction of a highway or any of those areas mentioned in Subdivision (1); or
- to maintain public safety by dispersing those gathered in dangerous proximity to a fire, riot, or other hazard.
According to Texas criminal law, “obstruct” means to render impassable or to render passage unreasonably inconvenient or hazardous. Additionally, Obstruction of Highway is classified as a Class B Misdemeanor, punishable by a term in the Tarrant County Jail of up to 180 days and up to a $4,000 fine.
As you can see, a conviction for Obstruction of Highway could result in a loss of your freedom and severely damage your reputation and limit your opportunity to obtain or retain employment. It is important to fight for your freedom and reputation by hiring an aggressive criminal attorney that knows the courts in Tarrant County and is willing to do what it takes to protect your clean record.
At The Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys, PLLC, I will aggressively defend you, seek defenses to your charge, work to protect you from a conviction and look to negotiate a dismissal or reduction of your charges so that you may be eligible to have this charge cleared from your record.
Now that we have identified the specifics of the crime of Obstruction of Highway, what does this crime have to do with a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) charge in Texas? The crime of obstruction of highway has been used by many Texas prosecutors to negotiate DWI cases that have evidentiary problems as a means of resolve the case in a plea deal.
What Happens Behind The Scenes In Plea Deal Negotiations?
As a general rule, every prosecutor in Texas is trained to attempt to negotiate a plea deal on a DWI case, even if the case has weak evidence and may not be provable in a jury trial. As a result, prosecutors offer to modify the DWI charge to an Obstruction of Highway, thereby saving the accused considerable collateral consequences that normally accompany a DWI conviction in Texas.
An experienced and aggressive DWI lawyer will put in work at the beginning of the case to provide as many options as possible for their client. Part of creating options for clients involves the attorney’s ability to analyze and comb through the police reports and videos to identify evidence issues that could provide an Obstruction of Highway as an option for resolution.
For example, if your attorney is able to identify the following issues in your DWI case, the option for an Obstruction of Highway may exist:
- Lack of reasonable suspicion or illegal traffic stop – what if the DWI officer fails to articulate a legal basis for the traffic stop? What if no traffic violation was committed and the officer was pulling you over based upon a hunch? Your attorney’s ability to establish reasonable doubt regarding the traffic stop is an effective method to provide options that result in a favorable resolution to the case.
- Lack of probable cause to arrest – what if the officer administered the field sobriety tests improperly? What if you did not exhibit the normal signs of intoxication? If the DWI officer failed to administer the field sobriety tests properly, according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, the tests are deemed unreliable and should not be considered as evidence establishing probable cause to arrest.
- Failure to follow protocol in breath or blood testing – what if the Intoxilyzer operator administered the breath test improperly? What if the person that drew your blood was not a “qualified technician?” All of these can play a critical role as to whether your breath or blood alcohol evidence is admissible in court, thereby improving your leverage in negotiating a favorable result.
- Lab failures in the testing of the blood samples – what if the lab failed to seal the blood vials properly? What if there was a problem in the chain of custody with the blood evidence? What if the technician failed to follow established protocol for blood testing? All of these factors can result in a DWI blood test ruled inadmissible in court.
What Factors Should Be Considered For Taking An Obstruction Of Highway Instead Of DWI?
First, we must analyze the pros and cons of accepting a DWI plea deal compared to an Obstruction of Highway plea:
- DWI convictions are expensive. Receiving a DWI conviction (probation or jail time) can result in a suspension of license, costs associated with an occupational license, surcharges and fees from the Texas Department of Public Safety resulting form a DWI conviction, fines that can range up to $4,000, and fines and fees associated with reporting to probation and completing classes and other requirements.
- For example: A first-time offender DWI conviction can result in a surcharge of up to $1,000 year for three years, dramatic rise in your car insurance premiums, a possible jail sentence of a minimum of 3 days and a DWI conviction on your record that can be used against you in the future.
- Obstruction of Highway charges are less embarrassing – whereas everyone knows what a DWI charge is, very few people in the general public understand the charge of Obstruction of Highway and do not attach a negative stigma to the charge because it does not include allegations of alcohol or driving.
If You Take An Obstruction of Highway Charge Instead of A DWI, Can You Clear Your Criminal Record?
It depends. It is critical that you work with your criminal defense attorney to ensure that any plea deal to an Obstruction of Highway charge be eligible for a non-disclosure or sealing of your criminal records.
Some jurisdictions only offer a straight probation offer on an Obstruction of Highway charge in place of a DWI charge. You should think long and hard about whether this is in your best interest. Why? Because straight probation sentences are NOT eligible for a non-disclosure of your criminal record upon completion of your probation sentence. In other words, you could accept the plea deal and complete everything as required and be stuck with an arrest and charge on your permanent criminal record. However, if you accept a plea deal for a deferred adjudication probation for an Obstruction of Highway charge, if you complete the terms and conditions of your probation, you may be eligible to have your criminal record non-disclosed or sealed.
Is There A Time To Reject An Obstruction of Highway Plea Deal When Facing A DWI?
For some people, a plea deal to an obstruction of highway is not an option. Texas laws have changed in the past few years regarding the availability of clearing a first time DWI charge from your criminal record.
Under current Texas DWI law, you can take a first-time DWI case, which has a blood or breath alcohol level under .15, to a jury trial and LOSE the case and still qualify for a non-disclosure to seal your criminal record. For many clients, if they know they can still qualify to clear their criminal record, even after a guilty verdict at a jury trial, they are willing to take the risk and convince the jury of their innocence.
The benefit? If you win at a jury trial, your case is eligible for an expunction of your arrest and DWI case records. An expunction is a complete destruction of all records pertaining to the arrest and case. If you lose? You can still complete the terms and conditions of a DWI probation and upon completion of the waiting period, you can be eligible to have the DWI charge non-disclosed.
As you can see, there are many factors to consider when facing a DWI case and the option of a plea to an Obstruction of Highway. It is critical that you work with an experienced and aggressive Fort Worth criminal attorney with a proven track record of resolving DWI cases for a favorable result.
At The Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys, PLLC, you will collaborate with a team of Former Tarrant County Prosecutors with a combined experienced of over 85 years in criminal and DWI law and a cumulative trial count of over 550 jury trials in the courts of Tarrant County and other courts in the North Texas area. Do not trust your future to an inexperienced criminal attorney without the means and experience to act in your best interest.
Call The Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys, PLLC now for a free consultation and an opportunity to speak to me about the facts of your case and the options you have under Texas law. Call Jeff Hampton at The Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys, PLLC at 817-826-9885.