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

JUST IN: Deputies looking for suspect after stolen vehicle leads to chase near Liberty Hill, sheriff says
JUST IN: Deputies looking for suspect after stolen vehicle leads to chase near Liberty Hill, sheriff says

Williamson County deputies are looking for a person suspected of stealing a vehicle in the Liberty Hill area and leading authorities on a chase, Sheriff Robert Chody said Monday. Chody tweeted that the incident had attracted a large police presence near Fawn Drive and Round Mountain Road area. People should avoid the area while authorities investigate...
UPDATED: Police detain person after stabbing in East Austin leaves 2 injured, officials say
UPDATED: Police detain person after stabbing in East Austin leaves 2 injured, officials say

10:15 p.m. update: One man was seriously wounded and another had minor injuries after a stabbing in East Austin, Austin-Travis County EMS officials said Monday night. A man in his 30s with serious, potentially life-threatening injuries was taken to a local hospital, medics said. A man in his 70s was also injured but refused being taken to the hospital...
SAN MARCOS: Stage 1 drought restrictions go into effect this weekend
SAN MARCOS: Stage 1 drought restrictions go into effect this weekend

The city of San Marcos will go into Stage 1 water-use restrictions this Sunday, officials said.  The Edwards Aquifer Authority called for drought restrictions Monday following a sustained drop in the aquifer’s levels, officials said. Stage 1 restrictions are implemented when the aquifer’s 10-day average well levels drop below 660 feet...
Abbott to launch 3 days of private gun discussions
Abbott to launch 3 days of private gun discussions

Inviting advocates on opposing sides of the gun debate, Gov. Greg Abbott will kick off three days of roundtable discussions on school safety with a Tuesday event featuring districts that arm teachers or have partnerships with local police. The hastily organized Capitol meetings, however, will be closed to the public and open to the media only at the...
Witnesses contradict what Crispin Harmel told police in 2009 slaying
Witnesses contradict what Crispin Harmel told police in 2009 slaying

Prosecutors wrapped up their capital murder case against Crispin Harmel on Monday by presenting three witnesses who contradicted what Harmel told police during the investigation of the 2009 strangulation death of Jessika Kalaher. Harmel told police then that he could not give them the shirt he had worn when he was with Kalaher because it was at a friend&rsquo...
More Stories