State senator proposes legislation to crack down on drunken drivers

By Patty Santos - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - A state lawmaker is pushing a bill that would allow first-time driving while intoxicated offenders to be eligible for deferred adjudication, or a probation-type agreement.

State Sen. Jose Menendez, D-District 26, said Senate Bill 106 would offer a new tool for prosecutors to keep track of DWI offenders.  

“We have got to do everything we can to save lives, if not the life of the driver, but the lives of the people they may hit or impact,” Menendez said.

Current law does not allow first-time offenders to be eligible for deferred adjudication, so some attorneys and judges might bring a charge of a lesser crime, such as obstruction of a highway by intoxication, which is eligible for deferred adjudication. But the problem is the lesser charge keeps the offender clear of the first DWI on their record.

“We’d like for there to be a record, so that if this becomes a pattern, we need to get you some help or put you away,” Menendez said.

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said he and 50 other elected prosecutors are behind the bill.

“It would offer a deferred adjudication for a first DWI offense; however, under this legislation, you could enhance a subsequent DWI with a harsher penalty,” Gonzales said.

The offender's record would keep the DWI offense.

“If you pick up a second (DWI), we can use the original DWI arrest,” Gonzales said. “Even though you received deferred adjudication and perhaps successfully completed it, we can still use it to enhance the subsequent charge, and now you're facing a harsher punishment.”

Gonzales said it gives first-time offenders a chance to get help or treatment with closely monitored probation.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is behind the proposed law change. The organization said in 2017, there were more than 2,000 alcohol-related crashes and 53 fatalities, along with more than 1,000 injuries. In 2018, there were more than 6,000 DWI arrests, the organization said.

Bexar County ranks among the top three counties in the state with DWI-related deaths per capita, said Jackie Ipina, with MADD.

“Your average drunk driver drives (while intoxicated) at least 80 times before their first arrest,” Ipina said.

SB 106 is currently waiting to be heard in committee. A similar bill was introduced last legislative session, but it failed to pass.

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