HOUSTON — Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo called lenient punishment for certain DWI offenders “outrageous” Friday while Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s office said it’s the “right thing to do” in the vast majority of cases.
The comments from the two public safety agencies follow a KHOU 11 investigation that revealed in Harris County, most drunk drivers who had kids in the car made plea deals with prosecutors to avoid jail time.
“We need to take DWIs much more seriously, and there has to be consequences,” Chief Acevedo said.
KHOU 11 Investigates analyzed more than 300 DWI with child passenger cases from January 2017 to September 2019. The offense is a felony punishable by up to two years in a Texas state jail. But since Kim Ogg took office as Harris County District Attorney, nearly two-thirds of those cases, 65 percent, ended in probation. According to court records, the district attorney’s office did not take a single case to trial during that time.
“When children’s lives are being placed at risk by irresponsible parents, some jail time is important because I think it has a deterrent effect,” Acevedo said.
The probation cases include drivers who were involved in multi-vehicle accidents, drivers who were so drunk they could not stand up, and drivers who were charged with other DWI’s after they received probation.
“Probation can ensure people are monitored for much longer periods of time,” the Harris County District Attorney’s office said in a written statement.
The statement also said certain offenders can be held accountable and also rehabilitated, and every case is unique and considered individually.
“We are not sending people to state jail in some of these cases when they can be treated and counseled to become productive members of society, and families are kept together,” the district attorney’s statement said.
In a sit-down interview at Houston Police headquarters down, Chief Acevedo said there’s a clear distinction between drivers who test at or near the legal limit of .08 blood alcohol content, and those who blow two, three times over or are involved in an accident. In those cases, he said, jail time is warranted to send a strong message.
“It doesn’t have to be a year for the first time offender, but when you put somebody in a county jail for 30 days, it gives you something to think about, so the next time they go out and decide to drink they don’t drive," he said.
Acevedo said the plea deals offered by prosecutors are especially frustrating given that HPD’s arrest numbers for all DWI offenses are up 96 percent over the past three years.
“We’re doing our part as a police department,” Acevedo said. “It’s time for everyone else, from the DA’s office, to the judges, to the juries, to do their part.”
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