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hris Perri Law is a criminal defense law firm located in Austin, Texas.

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Chris' Blog

The blog of Chris Perri Law, written by Chris Perri and Shannon Perri. Read the latest in exciting cases where justice is served.

Filtering by Category: DWI

Three things to do if you get pulled over by a cop—and you’ve been drinking.

Chris Perri

 Photograph by  Jeffrey Smith

Photograph by Jeffrey Smith

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, just under 1% of licensed drivers will be arrested at some point in their lives for driving while intoxicated. The chance of it happening to you may seem slim, but like all statistics, it happens to someone.

Hopefully you never find yourself pulled over with a flashlight at your window, but if you do, it’s better to know what to expect and be prepared. It could make the difference in the outcome of your case.

1. Accept that you may get arrested. Even if you’ve had just one drink, if a cop smells alcohol on your breath, you’re now their responsibility. They don’t want to be liable for letting someone who is potentially drunk on the road. If you refuse to blow into the breathalyzer, you will almost certainly get arrested, but that doesn’t necessarily mean blowing is the right call, as the accuracy behind the machines is questionable. Stay calm and wrap your mind around the possibility of one night in jail. Remember, an arrest does not mean a conviction.

2. Start building your defense—now. Your entire interaction with the cop is being recorded and will be used in determining the outcome of your case. Be polite to the officer, speak minimally, and consider if blowing into the breathalyzer and/or performing the sobriety tests will help or hurt your case. It can be tempting to try the tests to prove your innocence, but, remember, they’re challenging even when sober, so if you’ve been drinking, even lightly, it’s possible that attempting the tests will make you appear more inebriated than you are, especially if you have a medical condition. That’s why if you’ve accepted you might go to jail and focus on providing as little incriminating evidence against yourself as possible, you’ll be better off in the long run. Ultimately, it’s your call and your right to decide how to proceed in the moment. It’s also worth nothing that refusing the tests may allow the state to suspend your driver’s license. Still, a good criminal defense attorney can usually help you get an occupational license.

3. Remind yourself that this moment will pass. You are going to be okay. Assuming no one was hurt, the worst part of this experience will be the arrest. People in this position often feel ashamed, alone, and scared. It’s important to remember that you will get through this. You are more than just one bad night. And if you hire a qualified, compassionate defense lawyer, you’ll have support for the rest of the process. For some, a DWI arrest is a turning point for the better. The experience can be a wake-up call to address a problem, while for others it’s a reminder that none of us are perfect. And sometimes, it was just an unfair arrest. Obviously, no one wants to spend the night in jail, but remembering that it won’t last forever and there will be support on the other side often helps people make it through.

If you are someone you care about has been arrested for a DWI or another crime, call criminal defense attorney Chris Perri at (512)917-4378 for expert guidance.

Breath Test Machines: Less Reliable Than You Think

Chris Perri

 Chris Perri, next to his very own breathalyzer.

Chris Perri, next to his very own breathalyzer.

In DWI investigations, breath test results are very common evidence. Although I advise clients to refuse to provide a sample of their breath, the case isn’t over just because the machine says that the sample is over .08 BAC.

At the outset, it’s important to realize that BAC means blood alcohol concentration, not breath alcohol concentration. Breath test science relies on the assumption that it can obtain a reliable breath alcohol concentration that mirrors a particular person’s blood alcohol concentration. This assumption is fraught with difficulties, as I’ll explain below.

Let’s start with a very simplified description of the mechanics of the breath-test machine (also known as an intoxilyzer or breathalyzer). An arrested person blows into the machine, which takes this breath sample and shoots it through a tube that’s then injected with infrared light. Because alcohol particles block infrared light, the machine detects the amount of alcohol in a subject’s breath by determining how much of the infrared light has been blocked. It then takes this number, makes some calculations, and reports a breath alcohol concentration.

The calculation of this breath alcohol concentration is problematic because there’s a lot less alcohol in the breath than in the blood. For example, in an average person, the number of grams of alcohol in 1 part of the blood is equivalent to the number of grams of alcohol in 2100 parts of breath. This 1:2100 ratio is known as a “partition rate.” So, while a person’s blood alcohol concentration is defined as the number of grams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood, that same person’s breath alcohol concentration is defined as the number of grams of alcohol in 210 liters of breath. (Note: 100 milliliters x 2100 = 210 liters). In other words, if you have .08 grams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of your blood, then it’s assumed that you have .08 grams of alcohol in 210 liters of your breath.

While it’s not hard for police to obtain 100 milliliters of your blood, it’s impossible for them to obtain 210 liters of your breath (think about a 1 liter bottle and imagine filling up 210 of those bottles with your breath). For this reason, the breath test machine must multiply any amount of alcohol that it detects by a very large number. As an example, if you provide the machine with one liter of your breath, then the machine multiplies the amount of alcohol it detects by 210 in order to determine the number of grams of alcohol per 210 liters of your breath. This calculation is then reported as your BAC.

Consequently, any error by the machine in determining the amount of alcohol in a given sample would be exacerbated when it multiplies that incorrect number by two-hundred-fold. Such errors can occur when the machine interprets non-alcoholic particles in the breath as alcohol. For example, the machine cannot distinguish acetone (a common substance in the breath of diabetics) from alcohol. Or, imagine the complication of a stray particle of liquid alcohol entering the machine in the form of spit. Any error in the initial measurement of alcohol will render the entire breath test unreliable.

 Photograph courtesy of Oregon Dept. of Transportation

Photograph courtesy of Oregon Dept. of Transportation

For my next point, let’s give the machine the benefit of the doubt and assume that it can accurately measure the quantity of alcohol in a person’s breath. Even then, the machine makes a critical and troublesome assumption: that the subject’s partition rate is 1:2100 (recall from above that this means that the amount of alcohol in one part of blood is equal to the amount of alcohol in 2100 parts of breath). This assumption is not true across the population, as studies show that partition rates of normal people vary from 1:1100 to 1:3000.

As an illustration, let’s take a hypothetical subject arrested for DWI and call her Sue. She has a partition rate of 1:1100, which means that the number of grams of alcohol in 1 part of Sue’s blood is the equivalent of the number of grams of alcohol in 1100 parts of her breath. On this particular evening, Sue has consumed enough alcohol that her BAC is .06 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. Since her partition rate is 1:1100, there would also be .06 grams of alcohol in 110 liters of her breath (note: 100 milliliters multiplied by 1100 equals 110 liters).However, the breath machine is going to overestimate the BAC by nearly a factor of two. Here’s why:

When Sue takes a breath test, the machine is programmed to incorrectly assume that her partition rate is 1:2100. As a result, it will determine the number of grams of alcohol in 210 liters of her breath. Since Sue’s correct BAC is .06 grams of alcohol per 110 liters of breath (due to her partition rate of 1:1100), she has .11 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of her breath. Due to the machine’s inaccurate assumption that Sue’s partition rate is 1:2100 instead of 1:1100, the breath-test machine will report a BAC of .11, which is nearly twice as high as her actual BAC of .06. This inaccuracy results because the machine is improperly measuring the number of grams of alcohol per 210 liters of Sue’s breath, as opposed to the number of grams of alcohol per 110 liters of her breath. Thus, the machine’s assumption that everyone has a partition rate of 1:2100 creates a critical error by reporting that Sue is intoxicated even though she’s actually below the legal limit of .08 BAC.

Finally, it’s important to remember that it’s only illegal to be intoxicated while driving. It’s not a crime to be intoxicated 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour after operating a motor vehicle. But these chemical tests usually occur over an hour after driving, and the prosecution has the burden of proving how that BAC measurement relates to the time of driving. Unless law enforcement knows a lot of information about a particular person (e.g., number of drinks consumed, when the drinks were consumed, the type of alcohol consumed, amount of food consumed, when food was consumed, etc.), it’s impossible to conduct a reliable retrograde extrapolation, which is the science of determining a past BAC level based on a known BAC level. In other words, if the breath test machine reports that a person has a .11 BAC over an hour after driving, we don’t know whether the person’s BAC at the time of driving was below, above, or the same as the level reported by the machine.

While breath tests are an important tool for law enforcement in that they give a ballpark figure about an arrested person’s intoxication level, it’s a common misconception that a breath test machine provides an exact measurement of a person’s BAC at the time of driving. If you or a loved one have been arrested for DWI and submitted to a breath test that reported a BAC over .08, don’t despair. Call an experienced criminal defense attorney to fight the machine’s potentially inaccurate result.

Suppression Victories Preserve Our Constitutional Rights

Chris Perri

Chris Perri Law is proud to share that we’ve won three suppression hearings so far this year.

For those who may not know, a suppression hearing is held when a defendant believes that evidence was obtained in violation of a constitutional right. If the court agrees with the defendant, then the evidence is “suppressed,” which bars the prosecution from using this evidence at trial.

For example, in our recent blog post, we discussed a Supreme Court case where officers seized drugs from a vehicle following a positive canine alert during a traffic stop. This issue was litigated at a suppression hearing, where the defendant won the argument that the police officer violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

In many cases, winning a suppression hearing directly leads to the prosecutor dismissing the case due to insufficient evidence. As a result, the public often misunderstands suppression as a legal loophole that allows criminals to avoid accountability for their actions. Chris Perri doesn’t see it that simply.

 “Suppression hearings are my favorite part of practicing law,” Perri says. “The fact that my clients were caught with incriminating evidence isn’t the whole issue. Instead, we’re focusing on whether the police followed the rules. And these aren’t just any rules – these are the foundational principles that glue our country together. If judges allowed evidence to be introduced at trials despite being illegally obtained, then what’s the point of the Constitution? It’s the real possibility of suppression that keeps the police in line when they investigate illegal activity. It’s a part of our system’s checks and balances of power.“

Chris Perri Law Suppression Win #1

Earlier this year a client faced felony cocaine distribution charges after a police officer entered his house without a warrant. According to the cop, who was at the defendant’s front door in order to investigate an anonymous tip, he witnessed our client flushing the cocaine down the toilet, and he entered in order to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence (an exception to the general requirement that a warrant be obtained prior to entering someone’s home). However, the blinds covering the windows were drawn, and the cop had to awkwardly peer up through a crack in them in order to observe the inside of the home. Chris Perri Law successfully argued that while Supreme Court precedent recognizes an implicit license for anyone to come to the front door to knock and briefly wait for an answer (example: Girl Scouts selling cookies), no one—not even a police officer—is invited to violate the homeowner’s right to privacy by bending down to peep through a crack in drawn blinds. In fact, if you saw someone on their knees under someone’s window, trying to peer in through the blinds, you’d probably call the cops. The reasonable Travis County district judge ordered that the evidence be suppressed.

Chris Perri Law Suppression Win #2

At our next suppression hearing, a client faced a DWI charge and sought to suppress the blood evidence that was obtained with a search warrant following his arrest. Because the blood analyst reported a BAC of nearly twice the legal limit, combating this evidence was critical to our case. Our goal was to demonstrate that the officer lacked probable cause to arrest our client (a Fourth Amendment violation), so any evidence derived from an unlawful arrest is subject to suppression. By cross-examining the officer with the video of the stop and presenting evidence that undermined the officer’s credibility, Chris Perri Law convinced the court to suppress the blood results. Subsequently, the prosecution dismissed the charge due to insufficient evidence.

Chris Perri Law Suppression Win #3

Finally, in a pending felony case, Chris Perri Law suppressed key evidence a police officer obtained before reading the client his Miranda rights. Details will have to wait for a future blog post so that we do not compromise the resolution of this case.

Chris Perri Law is proud to practice criminal defense in Travis County, where constitutional principles reign supreme. If you or someone you know has a potential suppression issue, along with any other criminal defense matter, contact us today at (512)917-4378.

Court of Appeals Grants Chris Perri Law Oral Argument on Felony Case

Chris Perri

The Corpus Christi Court of Appeals has granted me the opportunity to present formal Oral Arguments on a felony DWI case in which my client was convicted and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. At trial, during which I was not yet his lawyer, the main evidence of my client’s intoxication came from a warrantless blood draw, revealing that his BAC was over the legal limit. Just a few months after my client’s trial, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for an individual’s blood to be drawn during a DWI arrest without a warrant—even if it was the individual’s third DWI. At the time of my client’s arrest, however, Texas law allowed the police to draw a person’s blood without a warrant if that person had two or more prior DWI convictions. However, due to the fact that the Supreme Court’s ruling occurred while my client’s case was pending appeal, I’m arguing that this ruling should apply to his case so that his conviction is overturned and he can be retried without the tainted evidence. The interesting issue on appeal is that because the trial attorneys did not object to the admission of the blood evidence, no error was preserved. Usually, objections are necessary to present an appellate issue because appellate courts require that the trial judge had an opportunity to make a ruling. I plan to fiercely argue that even though the error was not preserved, it represents such a fundamental miscarriage of justice that the appellate court should still reverse the conviction. 

Chris Perri Gives His Take on Life Imprisonment for Habitual DWI Offender

Chris Perri

A recent ruling by the Third Court of Appeals of Texas states that a life sentence can be a reasonable punishment for a third DWI felony conviction. 

In 2012 a woman in San Marcos was arrested and convicted for her third felony DWI—her sixth DWI conviction total. The case was tried in front of Hays County Judge Jack Robison, who found her guilty with a punishment of life in prison. The woman’s attorneys attempted to appeal this sentence, arguing that life in prison for a DWI violates the Eight Amendment—a cruel and unusual punishment. However, a three-judge panel of the Third Court of Appeals upheld Judge Robison’s sentence, holding that she had a dangerous pattern of behavior and was a habitual offender. (For more about the case, click here.)

“Though saddening that this woman got to this point, I don’t necessarily believe the sentence was a violation of the Eighth Amendment,” Chris Perri says. “I do, however, feel this highlights the importance of connecting first- and second-time DWI offenders to the appropriate resources and working with the prosecution to incentivize defendants to seek rehabilitation. I don’t know the details or history of this case, but I can’t help but wonder if in some way the system failed her.”

Professional drug and alcohol treatment is not a 100% guarantee for relapse prevention, but it definitely can help shift the odds in one’s favor. That’s why Chris Perri Law tries to find the best legal outcomes for its clients that lead to life successes and reductions of repeat-offenses. When appropriate, part of his services include linking clients to community resources or advocating for clients to be referred to the Mental Health Court.

“If we don’t look at the whole person—his or her story—nothing’s going to change,” Chris Perri says.

This sad case proves that having a strong legal advocate who cares about your future and wellbeing is crucial. If you or someone you know is in need, call Chris Perri Law at (512)917-4378 today. 

Lowering the Legal Alcohol Limit for Drivers Would Backfire

Chris Perri

Recently, The National Transportation Safety Board released an official recommendation for all states to lower the legal alcohol driving limit to a .05 blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Currently, the blood alcohol legal level is .08. See the chart below to see how these limits actually translate to individuals’ alcohol consumption.

bac-chart.jpg

At Chris Perri Law, we believe that lowering the legal limit would be a mistake and lead to injustice. “I think it dilutes the standard for intoxication,” Chris Perri says. “There is about a .02 margin of error on these breath tests. People that aren’t drunk and even had only one beer could register over the legal limit.” According to Chris, this would cause even more people to refuse to cooperate with police officers, as it puts those who have just had one drink at risk of severe legal consequences. In fact, Chris believes that raising the legal limit would actually lead to safer roads, as then the crime would be more stigmatized by our community. At present, Chris feels it is too easy for anyone to get a DWI, and if the limit was lower, it would seen as even less of a big deal to have been convicted of a DWI. To Chris, it is just not okay for someone who registered at a .08 BAC to be facing the same charge as some registered at, say, a .14.  Currently those arrested with a very high BAC actually benefit from the fact that they are lumped together with those just barely over the limit—the community sees all these crimes as one.

Another concern is that the police are under pressure to arrest anyone who has possibly had one drink for their own liability reasons. If they let someone go and that person has an accident, the city could be sued. However, this leads to innocent, law-abiding citizens spending nights in jail, carrying criminal records, and causing additional tax money to be spent on the criminal justice system. Further, if the BAC limit was say, .12, then when someone is arrested at this BAC, there would be no question that the person was drunk and needs a steep punishment. Currently, having a DWI is not a major stigma because the population understands that even those who aren’t drunk can end up with an arrest.

The National Transportation Safety Board states that more than 100 countries around the world have adopted a .05 BAC legal limit, and that this had led to fewer alcohol-related accidents. However, what is unfair about this comparison is that in these other countries, readily-accessible alternative transportation options exist. Chris Perri believes that in cities in like San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City there is absolutely no reason to ever drive after drinking alcohol. Yet, in Austin, we lack a viable public transportation system. A much better way to spend our tax dollars would be on developing better transportation options – not prosecuting individuals with a .05 BAC.

A forgotten element in this debate is how lowering the legal BAC would adversely affect the indigent population. Those with a lower socio-economic status are less likely to have funds for a taxi service. Also, if arrested this population often does not have ability to pay for a private attorney, so they must rely on a court-appointed attorney, which can be a bit of a crapshoot. Let’s not forget, court-appointed services are also paid with our taxes. Furthermore, giving more people criminal records, especially those already facing hardship, does not help anyone, but instead harms our entire community. Having a criminal record makes getting a job harder and also increases one’s likelihood of repeating the crime, as one’s sense of identity begins to shift due to the community’s label of that person as a “criminal.”

At Chris Perri Law, we believe strongly in finding ways to reduce accidents related to drunk-driving. However, Chris feels that by making a DWI more stigmatized and also offering improved public transportation options are much better ways to focus our efforts than punishing those for driving after just one drink.

We’d love to hear what you think, too. Let us know in the comment section.

Court says driving near Sixth Street at night is suspicious

Chris Perri

As most people probably know, if you’re driving home from the Sixth Street area late at night, you’re under suspicion from Austin’s DWI task force, which camps out at the heavily trafficked roads that lead away from the bar district. And now, based on a recent Court of Criminal Appeals ruling in Foster v. State, you can get pulled over even if you haven’t committed a traffic offense.

As a criminal defense attorney, one of my first questions of a client charged with DWI is: “Why did the cop pull you over?” Until recently, the answer almost always involved some type traffic offense, such as speeding, running a red light, expired inspection or registration, taillight out, etc. However, check out the facts of Foster:

A police officer was stopped at a red light in the right lane of West Sixth Street. Foster’s truck drove up very close to the back of the officer’s vehicle, and then the truck made a “revving” sound. The officer also described the truck as lurching forward, possibly to try to turn into the lane to the left of the officer. The officer then initiated a traffic stop of Foster’s truck despite the fact that Foster hadn’t violated any traffic laws. Foster then failed sobriety tests and was arrested for DWI.

The Court of Criminal Appeals found that the stop was validly supported by reasonable suspicion, which is the constitutional standard for such investigatory detentions. (Note: police officers need “probable cause” to arrest a person, but only “reasonable suspicion” to temporarily detain someone in order to investigate criminal activity). According to the court, the officer validly took into account the time of day and location in determining whether there was reasonable suspicion to detain Foster.

Here, the officer testified that based on his training and experience, people leaving the Sixth Street bar district late at night are likely to be intoxicated. When this circumstance is combined with Foster’s “erratic driving,” the Court found that was enough to pull him over. On the other hand, if Foster’s driving behavior had occurred on a residential street during the light of day, an officer would probably not have been able to validly pull him over because such driving behavior, in isolation, doesn’t amount to reasonable suspicion of a crime.

Of course, Foster’s an idiot for driving so aggressively in an area known to be patrolled by cops late at night. But until now, most attorneys would’ve agreed that he couldn’t be pulled over unless he committed a traffic offense. Now, that’s changed. And if you drive near Sixth Street at night, you’re already under suspicion; if you do anything that’s conceivably “erratic,” you’ll likely be the subject of a DWI investigation.

The best advice is to take a taxi or designate a sober driver in order to avoid an accident or police contact.

Appeals court upholds suppression of evidence

Chris Perri

Last year, I successfully moved for the trial court to suppress the State's expert testimony regarding my client's blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time of an alleged incident of Boating While Intoxicated. I wrote about this in my blog at the time. The State was unhappy with the judge's ruling, so it appealed. Today, a three-judge panel of the Third Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's ruling that the State could not introduce expert testimony on my client's BAC. The opinion can be read here. This is a great victory for my client, and I anticipate that the State will dismiss the pending charges due to the fact that it would not be allowed to present evidence of my client's alleged intoxication if the case proceeded to trial.

Expunging your DWI arrest just became easier

Chris Perri

Just because your criminal charge has been dismissed doesn’t mean that your arrest record goes away. If you don’t obtain a valid order of expunction, government records and online databases will continue to reflect your arrest...

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An expunction victory

Chris Perri

After two years of considering the case, the Third Court of Appeals in Austin decided in my client’s favor on an important expunction issue.  Prosecutors had been trying to prevent defendants from expunging their DWI arrests when they took probation on lesser charges (Reckless Driving or Obstruction of a Highway).  This was due to a strained reading of the expunction statute that I discuss more thoroughly in my blog.  The Third Court of Appeals accepted my argument that an expunction analysis should proceed by looking at each charge in isolation; as a result, a dismissed DWI is eligible for expunction regardless of what happens on another charge that stems from the same arrest.  This is a great victory for any defendant who uses plea bargaining to get rid of an unfair DWI charge. Remember, if you don’t get your charge expunged, potential employers can still see the arrest!