Gattis Files DWI Bill
Williamson County Sun – February 25, 2007
It’s not every day, every year – or even every decade – that a jury acquits a criminal defendant in the 368th Judicial District Court in Williamson County, Texas.
It happened this month, however, and District Attorney John Bradley said he isn’t at all surprised that 12 jurors found Carlton Manson Mathis, 41, not guilty of felony drunk driving.
“Defense attorney, Mark Brunner, did an admirable job,” District Attorney John Bradley said, and a key bit of evidence was missing – the defendant’s blood-alcohol level.
“The circumstances of the not guilty in that case were somewhat predictable,” he said. “The law says the defendant is supposed to provide a sample of breath or blood to the officer, but obviously the officer can’t force them to do that. We are seeing an extraordinary rise in people who are not providing breath or blood samples.”
Especially with repeat offenders, Mr. Bradley said.
In 1995, Mr. Mathis, a Georgetown resident, was convicted of misdemeanor driving while intoxicated in both Travis County and Comal County. In April 2005, after leaving a company barbecue in Williamson County, he was stopped and later arrested for his third DWI, a felony. He refused to provide a state trooper with a breath or blood sample. He failed to perform a field sobriety test as instructed, the trooper testified.
Mr. Mathis testified in court that he had drunk four or five beers over a five-hour period. He said he was not drunk when officers pulled him over; although he did tell them he was exhausted from not having slept in 20 hours. The jury also heard evidence that Mr. Mathis had been convicted twice for DWI.
“It was clear that the issue the jury had trouble with was not whether he was driving or drinking, but whether he was intoxicated within the meaning of the law,” which in Texas means a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent, Mr. Bradley said.
“We’re seeing more and more of this,” he said.
There are consequences for refusing to give officers a blood or breath sample: loss of driver’s license, paying a fine. Refusing to give a sample, however, greatly increases the refuser’s chances of winning in court. More people know that now because of defense attorney advertisements and Web sites dedicated to beating DWI convictions, Mr. Bradley said.
“The current approach of Texas law is an utter failure in terms of collecting evidence,” he said.
County Attorney Jana Duty said “Word’s out” – refuse the breath or blood tests, refuse the field sobriety test, do better in court. People are savvier about drunken-driving laws than they used to be, she said.
Because of that, Mr. Bradley said he has asked state Rep. Dan Gates, a Georgetown lawyer and former prosecutor under Mr. Bradley, to file a bill this session that would make it mandatory for felony DWI offenders to provide a blood or breath sample.
“When a drunk driver kills or seriously injures another person, Texas law requires the officer to take the [drunk driver] to hospital and take a blood sample,” Mr. Bradley said. “But unfortunately there has been no extension of that to simple felony DWI.”
Rep. Gattis, who represents Milam County and part of Williamson County, filed the bill on Thursday, but did not return phone calls from the Sun this week.
Bob Phillips, whose Georgetown law firm employs defense attorney Mr. Brunner, said penalties for refusing to submit to a breath or blood test are already severe enough.