A Texas jury deliberated for only 45 minutes before sentencing a 40-year-old woman to life in prison after her punishment-only trial in San Antonio. The woman had previously entered a guilty plea on a murder charge stemming from her involvement in a wrong-way crash in 2010 that claimed the life of a 38-year-old man.
Bexar County prosecutors are taking an aggressive approach with motorists who have been involved in fatal accidents while under the influence, and they are opting to pursue felony murder charges in these cases rather than intoxication manslaughter. The woman is the fourth defendant to receive a lengthy prison sentence in the county following the adoption of the new strategy. The Bexar County district attorney has said that her office will continue to file felony murder charges when appropriate. She added that the jury verdict and the speed in which it was returned were a vindication of the approach that her office is taking.
The defense attorney in the case had asked for a 20-year prison sentence, which would have been the maximum penalty had the woman been facing intoxication manslaughter charges. However, the defendant’s testimony and her previous record of drunk driving garnered little sympathy from the jury.
The woman claimed that relationship problems and a pending divorce contributed to her two DWI arrests in 2008, and she then claimed that she was driving in an orderly fashion even though she had been on the wrong side of the road for more than three miles before the fatal accident. The woman was found to have a blood-alcohol level of more than three times the legal limit when she was tested after the crash.
This case demonstrates the hard line that authorities in Texas are taking in DWI cases, and even first-time offenders can face severe penalties. A criminal defense attorney with experience in drunk driving cases may be able to lower the severity of the punishments assessed by entering into plea negotiations with prosecutors. He or she could also question the actions of police officers or dispute the results of field sobriety or breath tests.