Hundreds of Texans still driving after multiple DWIs
10:52 PM CDT on Wednesday, May 25, 2005
By KEVIN PETERS / KVUE News
A Williamson County jury will decide Thursday whether Gary Gibbs, convicted of drinking and driving eight times, will be sentenced to life in prison. But his record is less shocking when compared against the hundreds of Texans who have even more DWI convictions.
According to a KVUE News investigation of Department of Public Safety records, Gibbs has plenty of company -- 754 Texans have been convicted eight times for DWI. One driver has been convicted 23 times for DWI, while another has been convicted 22 times. Three drivers have 20 convictions, and 17 drivers have 15.
"The sad fact is that the most someone's license can be suspended in the state of Texas is two years for a felony DWI," Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley. "Even then, every judge can grant that defendant an occupational driver's license, allowing him to drive to and from work."
Drivers racking up DWI convictions haven't enticed lawmakers to toughen penalties, either. House Bill 2193, which is now in front of the governor, would cut probation for a third-time DWI offender in half.
The bill sends the wrong message to Texas drivers, Bradley said.
How do you suggest we handle old convictions?
We have a defendant who's on his 6th DWI currently, but because of the poor condition of the fingerprints or because the judgments are actually missing, I can only indict the case using the two most recent DWI's. His 94 (Charged as a first) and his 99 (charged as a 3rd).
If I could get any of the older priors, I'd charge the current DWI as a 3rd then enhance it with the 99 felony. But I can't. I can't get a good copy of the 80's DWIs because certain neighboring counties don't have copies any more. Or worse, didn't fingerprint the defendant at all.
Have any of you had this difficulty? How did you handle it?
You know, if you've been stupid enough to be convicted 2 or more times of DWI, you should be forbidden to drive a motor operated vehicle in the State of Texas. With all we know about DWIs and the stiff penalties, only the hardcore are still at it. They should be banned to: (1) public transportation; (2) non-motor propelled vehicles - like Fred Flinstone's foot-powered vehicle; or (3) a large quarter horse, that will be prohibited from being on the public highways, so you have to take the backroads. Let's see a .24 stay upright on a horse.
We get creative. However, it's definitly harder when dealing with out-of-county priors. I guess that's another reason we ADAs need to call each other and help out when we're stuck in that situation. My two cents:
1) Does the jail in the prior county still have fingerprints from book-in?
2) Is the CID# (county) or SID# (state) on the fingerprint card/jail records?
3) Is the defendant's signature on the priors to compare to a signature on any paperwork related to the current case?
Any of those items (maybe in combo) seemingly could be compared to link up the priors with the person in court on the current case.
I would hate the prospect of explaining to a citizen how it is that their loved one got ironed out by one of these sots. Let that happen and the hunt for the guilty would be ON!
[This message was edited by BLeonard on 05-26-05 at .]
Sometimes it is almost impossible to prove up those really old ones, Phillip. One method you might try is a certified driving record from DPS. They have a form you can use to request the record. The records you receive will have the defendant's photograph, drivers license number and other identifiers on it, along with a record showing the conviction for DWI (if it was reported to DPS; some were, some were not). Don't have the citation handy but there are cases that say this is an acceptable method of proving a prior conviction for DWI. Remember that fingerprints and eyewitness testimony are only two methods you can use to prove the prior. Any other method is sufficient as long as it identifies the defendant as the same person who was convicted. Combine the driving record, including the photo and license number, with your old judgment, prove that the license number is the defendant's (which you can do through your officer who made the arrest) and you should have it.
We use a number of ways:
1. Jail records from the incarceration showing that person was arrested on the date of offense alleged in the judgment, the bond, the court case number, etc...
2. When you have prior felonies--look at the indictment--usually the party will have pled true to the indictment--and to the priors alleged in the indictment
3. Certified copy of driving record from DPS
4. Personal Identification Numbers (PIDs) from the various counties where the Defendant has priors. Some of the larger counties assign PID numbers to individual defendants of which you can contain a certified copy of a prinout from the computer giving all of their other identifying information.
5. Check with the bondsmen in the counties where the priors were. Many of them take photographs, get DL numbers, and possibly even fingerprints from their customers
6. Check with the SmartStart or other Ignition Interlock Provider to see what information they have to tie the Defendant with the Judgment
7. If they received probation on the priors--check with the local probation department and get copies of their file along with the identifiers
8. Check with the counties where the priors are and see if a PSI was done. Defendants will often do the work for you with their statements about previous convictions in a PSI. They may also have a copy of the offense report in the probation file which will contain the identifiers you need.
9. Check with the arresting agency on the priors to get a copy of the offense reports
And let's not forget this can often be done the old fashioned way: asking the defendant at the time of arrest or his friends and family at a later date.
I once had some trouble with a pen packet and approached the defendant's mother, who was watching the trial. She ended up testifying she was present when he pled guilty to every single one of his prior convictions.
For our Gibbs repeat drunk, the officer asked the defendant, on video, if he had been previously arrested and convicted. That tape was used at punishment to help prove up the priors.
Sometimes when you have missing judgments take a look at the prosecutors files from the two cases you do have. I have been amazed to find certified judgments that county clerks have lost the originals of after the fact. Look also for previous PSIs that may have great info and might be admissible as official court records.
Great ones, Clay. We regularly pull the defendant's prior DA file and find the old judgments we ordered for the last prosecution. They often are never used when defendant pleads guilty to agree punishment.
As to the PSI, we often use that info to have the probation officer who did the interview testify that defendant made personal admission of criminal history.
Another suggestion: check to see if court reporter for local court still has notes from the plea or trial. Those can be turned into admissions of a party opponent.
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