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Do drunk driving laws discriminate against heavy drinkers?

The legal argument was creative, if not entirely convincing: After receiving his fourth driving-while-intoxicated (DWI) conviction, a San Antonio man filed an appeal that claimed Texas's drunk driving laws are unconstitutional because they discriminate against alcoholics.

As reported in the Austin Statesman, the courts were not persuaded. By all appearances, the conviction will stand, as will the four-year prison sentence that went with it. What the case underscores, if anything, is the stringent nature of our state's drunk driving laws, and the importance of working with a qualified lawyer when charges are pressed.

The argument was weak. But what was it?

The current situation stems from 2016, when the San Antonio man was arrested after his car rolled over on a rural county road and blood tests revealed a high blood-alcohol content (BAC). In response, the man argued that Texas's legal limit of .08 BAC shouldn't apply to him and other heavy drinkers. Specifically, the man posited that the .08 limit "ignores the higher tolerances that frequent drinkers have to the effects of liquor," and renders them vulnerable to arrest without officers "having to prove that they have lost control of their mental or physical abilities." As such, heavy drinkers constituted a protected class, whose rights were being violated.

The courts disagreed. They noted that the laws do not single out individuals with alcohol dependence or other heavy drinkers, as they (the laws) apply equally to everybody. Moreover, they pointed out that, at the time of his arrest, the man's BAC was .29 - more than three times the legal limit.

"You're not being punished for being an alcoholic," said a representative from Comal County's district attorney's office. "It's the driving that's the problem."

The laws apply to everyone. And sometimes they're applied quite hard.

Legal limits make the roads safer for everyone. But at times law enforcement officers can be overzealous in their pursuit of drunk drivers, and pull over cars without appropriate cause to do so, or make arrests premised on faulty breath or blood test results.

If you're facing drunk driving charges, an attorney can be of great assistance. Simply put, an attorney will know how to spot any inappropriately handled aspects of your arrest, and can ensure your rights are protected at every step. Still, what's safest is to avoid drinking and driving in the first place.

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