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House Interim Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence
Charge

Review the laws and procedures relating to driving, including blood-alcohol levels, sobriety checkpoints, and open containers in automobiles.
Background

The committee appointed the Subcommittee on Driving While Intoxicated. This subcommittee conducted two public hearings. Testimony included issues concerning sobriety checkpoints, lowering blood alcohol levels for adults, breath and blood-alcohol tests, mobile video taping, and drunk driving prevention programs.
Recommendations

  • Lower blood alcohol content level from 0.10 to 0.08.

  • Prohibit the driver and passengers of a motor vehicle from possessing open alcoholic beverage containers. Exceptions should be made for taxis and other hired vehicles.

  • Amend the open container law to remove the requirement that peace officers observe consumption.

  • Authorize the Texas Department of Public Safety to represent itself in automatic license revocation appeals.

  • Make Chapter 524 (suspension of driver's license for failure of breath/blood alcohol test) of the Transportation Code (Code) consistent with Chapter 724 (refusal to submit to such a test).

  • Amend Section 512.344(f) of the Code, which refers to the suspension or denial of drivers' licenses to persons who fail to complete an educational program for repeat alcoholic beverage offenses, to include persons receiving non-probated sentences for first or subsequent driving while intoxicated (DWI) offenses.

  • Amend Section 512.344(i) of the Code to require a driver's license to be revoked for failure to complete the DWI repeat offender program.

  • Encourage the use of videotaping, especially mobile videotaping, at traffic stops.

  • Authorize police officers to respond in a truthful, non-coercive manner to questions by DWI suspects prior to administering a breath test. Require the Texas Department of Public Safety to draft an easy-to-understand warning form. (The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that officers should be cautious in warning DWI suspects about the direct statutory consequences of refusal to submit to a test, as any other information could have the effect of coercing the suspect into taking the test. There was testimony that a standard, uniform warning could remove the coercion issue.)

  • Encourage educational, prevention, treatment, and traffic safety programs on DWI.
    Charge

    Review and assess the insanity defense.
    Background

    Under Texas law, insanity is an affirmative defense to prosecution on the ground that, at the time of the conduct, the actor, as a result of severe mental disease or defect, did not know that the conduct was wrong. The public perception is that the insanity defense is abused, but studies show that this defense is rarely invoked and seldom successful. The committee established the Subcommittee on Insanity Defense, which held public hearings.
    Recommendations

  • Texas law should be amended to include "theim dates." Theim dates provide that the order for admission to a hospital is for an indefinite period of time not to exceed the length of time the defendant would have been required to serve had he or she been found guilty. The use of such dates would allow the state to bypass civil proceedings to detain a mentally ill and dangerous person if that person had already been convicted.

  • Amend Texas law to create different treatment tracks for mentally ill persons and mentally retarded persons, as the current insanity defense law makes no distinction between mental illness, which is usually easily diagnosed, and mental retardation, which may go undetected.

  • Encourage the identification of persons suffering from mental impairment or retardation on the local level (this issue is more fully addressed by the Joint Committee on Criminal Justice and People with Mental Disabilities).