Corpus Delicti in DWI Cases

When you are charged with a crime such as DWI, the State must show that the corpus delicti rule is satisfied. In other words, the State must show that the alleged criminal conduct caused some type of harm. The First District Court of Appeals in Houston recently dealt with the issue of corpus delicti in MCCANN v. STATE.

In this case, the police found Mr. McCann walking on the side of the road, looking for his vehicle. McCann and the officer went searching for the vehicle and found it about 400 yards down the road against a tree, the airbags were deployed and the hood was warmer than he outside temperature. No pedestrians were within the immediate area and there were no places to get alcohol nearby. McCann admitted to drinking “a margarita and three glasses of wine.” The officer then performed three standard intoxication tests and determined that McCann showed signs that he was too intoxicated to drive safely. The trial court convicted McCann of driving while intoxicated and McCann appealed the decision, claiming that the State failed to fulfill the corpus delicti rule.

What is the corpus delicti Rule?

The Latin translation of corpus delicti is the “body of the crime.” Under Texas Law, corpus delicti means the “harm brought about by the criminal conduct of some person.” Basically, this rule requires the State to present evidence that a confession by a criminal defendant is backed up by some other independent facts showing the crime caused harm. This standard is not difficult to prove, the State merely needs to provide evidence other than the confession that shows that the crime probably happened.

In this case, Mr. McCann was charged with DWI, technically defined as a person who is intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place. The State is required to show evidence that Mr. McCann did in fact operate the vehicle while intoxicated. As evidence of the crime, the State used the following facts: 1) the defendant suffered chest and wrist pains from the airbag; 2) the vehicle’s hood was warm, indicating it was recently running; 3) there were no pedestrians or businesses that sold alcohol nearby. The defendant tried to argue that the evidence presented did not sufficiently prove that he operated the vehicle in question while intoxicated. The court rejected the defendant’s argument and determined that the corpus delicti rule was met. Mr. McCann also argued that the State’s evidence was insufficient to prove a DWI, however; prior case law allows the State to use evidence that the defendant was intoxicated near the scene of the crime to infer that the driver caused the accident. In this case, the court determined that the combination of the confession by Mr. McCann that he had been drinking before the accident; the warmth of the hood of the car; and Mr. McCann’s injuries from the airbag showed that the court could have found that a DWI occurred.

If you believe you have an issue with corpus delicti in a DWI case, call Guest and Gray Law Firm’s defense team today. Guest and Gray Law Firm is a full service civil and criminal defense law firm serving the entire DFW Metroplex including Dallas, Kaufman, Rockwall and surrounding counties. Our main office is in Forney, Texas where we have served the community since 1967. We also have office locations in Rockwall and Kaufman, Texas. Our team of lawyers is ready to help with any concern you might have involving a DWI case.

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