If you have been charged with a felony DWI in Texas, the State may ask the jury in your case to find that you used your car as a deadly weapon. If the jury complies, it limits your eligibility for parole to half of your sentence, which means a minimum of 2 years behind bars. This is a convenient tool for the prosecution, and it is often used to pressure defendants into waiving their rights to trial and accepting plea bargains. A deadly weapon finding is what is known as a charge enhancement, and the State faces no penalties for implementing such an enhancement – it basically has nothing to lose.
A Deadly Weapon Allegation
The original intention of a deadly weapon allegation was to punish those criminals who use guns and weapons to commit crimes. While a car could be used as a weapon – and it sometimes is – in most situations it is not a weapon (even if the driver is reckless). Unfortunately, the law has morphed into a more general consensus. The basic understanding seems to go as follows:
- A DWI is a felony.
- A DWI involves a car.
- Every car involved in every felony DWI could conceivably be identified as a deadly weapon.
While this certainly does not sound right, the fact is that State overreach does happen.
The Manner of Use Rule
In order for the court to enter a deadly weapon finding, the State must show through manner of use that the defendant used his or her vehicle as a deadly weapon. This is an evidentiary rule requirement, and it is meant to preclude the court from attaching an automatic deadly weapons finding to the final judgment. There is a legal requirement that the State must show via specific testimony that the defendant’s use of the vehicle justifies a deadly weapon finding. This is known as the manner of use rule.
While the State must have evidence demonstrating that your manner of use qualifies your vehicle as a deadly weapon, their evidence can be difficult to refute. An officer who stopped you because your tire drifted over the white line can testify to your reckless driving. Absent hard evidence, which is probably not available, the matter can come down to the officer’s testimony against your own. The thought of an enhanced sentence leaves many defendants far more amenable to plea deals.