Texas Drunk Driver Convicted… Of Murder

felony-murder-dwi-death-texas “Alcohol and speed were factors in the crash.” We hear that often on the news. But how often do we hear the word “murder” attached to the story?

Last January David Daniel Rodriguez was speeding in southwest Houston when he lost control of his car and crashed into a tree. He survived, but his passenger died.

Rodriguez could have been charged with many things – DWI, reckless driving, speeding, intoxication manslaughter, reckless endangerment. But the charge he faced turned out to be murder, and last week the jury convicted him.

How Can a DWI Death Be Murder?

To understand the murder charge, you need to understand the difference between premeditated and felony murder. The latter is a charge that comes when a death results while one commits another felony.

Usually felony murder is the charge when death occurs during the commission of crimes like robbery or arson. However, about fifteen years ago Texas began introducing the charge for causing DWI death. In Texas, if a driver has two previous convictions, a DWI becomes a felony, and the resulting death a felony murder. The first conviction for DWI felony murder happened in 2003.

It doesn’t matter that the death was unintentional. In Texas, a felony murder DWI can result in life imprisonment.

Not everyone agrees with the concept of a felony murder DWI. Some attorneys don’t think that a crime committed without genuine intent – mens rea, in legal parlance – should be punished so harshly.  The prosecution doesn’t have to prove intent to kill – just intent to commit the felony, e.g. drive drunk after two DWI convictions.

One of the reasons that Texas became the 25th state to require all DWI offenders to install ignition interlocks – devices  which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – is that repeat offenses are common, and standard measures such as fines and license suspensions don’t work to discourage DWI recidivism.

Perhaps getting the word out about the fate of David Daniel Rodriguez will make people understand how determined Texas is to deep drunk drivers off its roads.