Colorado DWAI Counts as a Prior Alcohol Offense in Texas

In a non-reported decision coming out of Texas, a Texas Appellate Court has held that a conviction for DWAI in Colorado is a prior offense that can be used to enhance a defendant’s current DWI charge under Texas law.  The Texas Penal Code provides that a DWI is a third-degree felony if the person has two prior convictions “relating to the operating of a motor vehicle while intoxicated.” 

Defendant Karl Christensen argued that his Texas DWI charge could not be legally enhanced to a third-degree felony based on a prior Colorado DWAI because the DWAI statute differed in its definitions of intoxication and operation such that a person could be convicted under the Colorado DWAI statue who (1) was actually not intoxicated under Texas law, or (2) would not be legally operating a vehicle under Texas law. 

The Texas court first addressed the issue of motor vehicle operation, holding that the test employed by Colorado when interpreting and applying the term “operation” is “virtually identical” to the test used by Texas courts in interpreting and applying the same term.   Essentially, the court stated that the Colorado definition and use of the tem “operate” is similar enough to Texas’ definition and use of the word that it is appropriate to determine that a Colorado DWAI satisfies the “operation” requirement of Texas’ enhanced DWI statute.

Next, the court addressed Christensen’s argument that his Colorado DWAI conviction could not be used for enhancement purposes because being “impaired” under the Colorado DWAI statue is different than being “intoxicated” under the Texas DWI statute.   Again, the court held that the similarities between Colorado and Texas law resulted in a situation where a Colorado conviction for DWAI was legally encompassed within the Texas statutory definition of “intoxication.”  In other words, while the Colorado DWAI statue does not explicitly contain the term “intoxication,”  it mirrors the Texas statute in application and interpretation such that it can be treated similarly.  In making this decision, the court focused on the fact that both states have laws authorizing a DUI or DWI conviction under a “per se” theory based on a defendant’s BAC and an “impairment” theory based on evidence other than BAC.   The court further noted that both states use very similar criteria for finding impairment such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and the odor of alcohol.

In short, the laws concerning DUI’s and other alcohol related offenses are similar in each state and are becoming even more uniform.   Therefore, a conviction in one state could have future legal implications in another state.

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