After 4th DWI, man argues legal limit discriminates against alcoholics


After his fourth driving-while-intoxicated conviction in 2016, a San Antonio man tried to overturn his four-year prison sentence by arguing that Texas’ legal limit on intoxicated driving discriminates against alcoholics.

Ralph Alfred Friesenhahn argued that the state’s driving limit of 0.08 blood-alcohol concentration ignores the higher tolerances that frequent drinkers have to the effects of liquor, allowing the “protected class of alcoholics” to be prosecuted without having to prove that they had lost control of their mental or physical abilities.

The Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals wasn’t buying it, saying in an opinion issued Friday that state law does not unfairly single out alcoholics because it applies equally to all drivers.

Friesenhahn not only failed to present evidence that alcoholics are a protected class under the Americans With Disabilities Act or other federal law, he also failed to prove that the law treats alcoholics differently than other DWI defendants, said the opinion by Justice Cindy Olson Bourland.

“Instead, he argues that they ‘should’ be treated differently … and thus fails to establish an equal-protection violation,” Bourland wrote.

Friesenhahn was arrested after a single-car rollover accident along a rural Comal County road south of New Braunfels. Blood tests later indicated that he had an alcohol concentration of 0.29 — more than 3½ times the legal limit.

His trial lawyer, Gina Jones of New Braunfels, moved to quash Friesenhahn’s indictment, arguing that the legal driving limit discriminated against alcoholics, but state District Judge Jack Robison denied the request.

After Friesenhahn was convicted of felony DWI because of his prior alcohol-related convictions, Jones made the same argument on appeal, leading to Friday’s 3rd Court of Appeals decision upholding Robison’s ruling. Jones has not yet responded to an interview request.

Sammy McCrary, chief of the felony division for the Comal County criminal district attorney’s office, said it is ridiculous and misleading to suggest that the law treats alcoholics differently.

“You’re not being punished for being an alcoholic. It’s the driving that’s the problem,” McCrary said. “It’s making the decision to get into a 3,000-pound vehicle … after drinking.”

Trial records show that Friesenhahn also was convicted for driving while intoxicated in Victoria County in 1985 and Bexar County in 1990 and 1998, McCrary said.

Although Friesenhahn argued for leniency in drunken driving laws, the trend has been moving in the opposite direction.

In 1999, the Texas Legislature lowered the state’s legal driving limit from a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.10 to the current 0.08, a limit eventually adopted by every state, and pressure is on to go even lower.

The National Transportation Safety Board in 2013 recommended that states reduce the legal limit to 0.05, saying the move could cut fatal accidents almost in half, and last month the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine made the same suggestion, saying studies found lower accident rates in countries that adopted the lower limit.

Last year, Utah became the first state to cut its limit to 0.05 in a law that takes effect Dec. 30.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Traffic report for Monday, Feb. 26

Interstate 35 (Travis County): The northbound outside lane will be closed between Boggy Creek and Stassney Lane from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday nights. The William Cannon exit will be closed as needed. The southbound outside lane will be closed between Stassney and Boggy Creek from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday through Thursday nights. Reduced...
Split vote likely on removing Confederate names from Austin schools
Split vote likely on removing Confederate names from Austin schools

A split vote is expected Monday night as the Austin school board decides whether to remove Confederate names from five campuses. At least five of trustees, the minimum needed to move the measure forward, have expressed support for the measure. But others on the board continue to raise concerns about the name changes, saying the board’s action...
Catholic bishops sever ties to Texas Right to Life, exposing rift
Catholic bishops sever ties to Texas Right to Life, exposing rift

Exposing a deep and widening rift in the state’s energetic anti-abortion movement, the Catholic bishops of Texas have directed churches across the state to refrain from working with Texas Right to Life, which bills itself as the “oldest and largest statewide pro-life organization.” According to a written directive, Texas Right to...
FluMist returns for next flu season, but it won’t be for everyone
FluMist returns for next flu season, but it won’t be for everyone

Next flu season, most people will again have the choice between a flu shot and FluMist, an inhaled live virus vaccine. Last week, AstraZeneca, the maker of FluMist, announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to recommend the vaccine for the 2018-19 season, two years after...
Amid complaints, Travis County judges change ‘jail reduction’ court
Amid complaints, Travis County judges change ‘jail reduction’ court

Two Austin defense lawyers are demanding Travis County discontinue a misdemeanor court docket they say pressures indigent defendants to accept bad plea deals — and even plead guilty to crimes they did not commit — in exchange for their release from jail. The Jail Reduction Docket is unconstitutional, perpetuates poverty and mirrors characteristics...
More Stories