How long can a DWI Investigation last? Can the police arrest me for a DWI two weeks after the wreck? How about two months or two years? Doesn’t a case ever get so old prosecutors can no longer prosecute the case? Does that limit apply to other intoxication related cases?
As an experienced DWI Defense Attorney serving Williamson County, Austin, and Central Texas, I hear these questions, and others like them, often. Many people are genuinely surprised to learn how long a case can stay open before the law prohibits police from arresting and prosecutors from prosecutor a Texas DWI or other intoxicated related case. This is an important area of the law to understand if you or loved one stands accused of such a crime. Sometimes police do not immediately arrest a person they suspect of an alcohol related crime. That person may then wonder when or if he or she will be arrested and how long potential charges can hang over their head. The accused can suffer serious stress caused by the ongoing possibility that, at any moment and without warning, police officers may barge into the accused’s work, embarrass the accused in public, disrupt an important meeting, or even pound on the accused’s front door at home late in the evening. People in that situation want to know when the can breathe a sigh of relief and stop worrying about those possibilities.
In this post, I hope to give them an answer. As always this brief overview is general in nature. For specific questions about your particular case, please call me to get individualized advice and attention.
The important concept to understand in this discussion is Statute of Limitations. What is that? The Statute of Limitations is a specific law, passed by the legislature and contained in Chapter 12 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, that states how long a case can remain pending without charges filed. Chapter 12 sets forth a specific period of time, starting on the day the offense is alleged to have been committed, within which the State must file formal charges against the accused. If the State does not file charges within that time, the Statute of Limitations has run for that particular incident and the law prohibits the State from ever filing those charges. The Statute of Limitations varies depending on the type of offense alleged.
All misdemeanors have a Statute of limitations of 2 years. Thus police must investigate and prosecutors must file a charging document with the clerk in their county within two years from the alleged date of offense to file DWI 1st offense or DWI Subsequent charges in Texas.
But there are other possibilities for alcohol related crimes. Readers may recall a previous post, When DWI is a Felony. While the Statute of Limitations varies quite widely for felony cases, most alcohol related cases currently have a Statute of Limitations of 3 years, including DWI with Child Passenger, DWI 3rd or More, Intoxication Assault, and Intoxication Manslaughter. That same 3 year limit applies to most aggravated assault cases.
However, keep in mind that if three years have passed and the intoxication case involves an accident that resulted in the death of another person, the prosecutor may, if they think their evidence is sufficient, consider charging manslaughter or even murder. Those crimes do not have a Statute of Limitations period barring further prosecution. Thus, prosecutors may pursue those charges regardless of how much time has passed since the alleged date of offense.
When will the Statute of Limitations come up in an Austin Texas DWI case? When would a police officer not immediately arrest someone in a Williamson County DWI case? Usually in cases involving a serious car accident. Consider the following examples:
- Police believe the accused is intoxicated and caused the wreck, but the accused is injured to the point that he or she requires hospitalization. Police may well hold off on making an arrest until the accused is released from the hospital.
- Police believe the accused is intoxicated and caused the wreck. The other driver involved in the wreck is seriously injured and hospitalized. The police may only arrest the accused for intoxication assault or driving while intoxicated and wait to see the full extent of the other driver’s injuries. If the other driver dies from the injuries, the prosecutor may add or change the charges to intoxication manslaughter or, in some cases, murder (under the felony murder theory).
- Police investigate a serious accident and believe the accused caused the accident and was intoxicated at the time. Police obtain a sample of the accused’s blood, either because the accused was incapable of taking the breath test or because the accused was afraid of the new penalties for Texas DWIs and the legal incentives to refuse the breath test. Careful, diligent, professional police officers may send the blood to the crime lab they use, the DPS lab in Williamson County DWI cases and the Austin Police Department Crime Lab in most Austin DWI cases, and wait until the receive results from the lab before making an arrest.