Prosecuting drunken drivers presents challenges for DA's Office

Intoxication manslaughter cases compete for trial docket space

SAN ANTONIO – Getting an intoxication manslaughter case to trial before a judge and jury in state district court in Bexar County often takes a considerable amount of time.

"We are competing with murder cases, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated assault," Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood said. "They're all felony cases that compete for the same jury or judge to get in front of."

Although there has been a large number of intoxication manslaughter cases tried so far this year, the numbers are about average, LaHood said.

"What we're seeing lately are older cases, if you look at the ages of the cases that are finally going to trial," LaHood said.

LaHood said so far this year, there have been 4,266 alcohol-related arrests, such as driving while intoxicated to intoxication manslaughter.

Aside from getting cases on the docket and into court, prosecutors also often face another problem.

"I think we have a fight here, in a sense, of how juries are looking at these cases," LaHood said. "I think a lot of jurors are thinking, 'But for the grace of God, there go I."

Getting jurors beyond that mindset is among prosecutor's challenges during a trial. Convincing them that for the victim's families, life has taken on a "devastating new normal."

"It doesn't get any more serious than this,"  LaHood said. "You're talking about an empty chair at the dinner table on Christmas and Thanksgiving."

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