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.

>> Read more trending news 

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 Nation & World

Veteran's American flag stolen; now a heartbreaking plea to get it back
Veteran's American flag stolen; now a heartbreaking plea to get it back

The sign says, “Please return my flag, sentimental to me. I brought it back from Iraq. The bottom four stripes have my buddy’s blood on them.”  “This was very important to him,” said Kim Phillips, who lives in Tacoma, Washington. She said veteran Nolan Gomez, also of Tacoma, was doing some yard work when someone...
Boat breaks free, crashes onto truck towing it, officials say
Boat breaks free, crashes onto truck towing it, officials say

A large boat broke free from its trailer Saturday and landed on top of the truck towing it.  Rescue crews responded to the unusual scene at 5:38 p.m. to secure the boat and treat victims for injuries, the Union Hill Fire Department said on Facebook.  The victims, whose identities were not released, were treated at the scene.
1 dead, suspect in custody when hostage situation unfolds at Los Angeles Trader Joe’s, officials say
1 dead, suspect in custody when hostage situation unfolds at Los Angeles Trader Joe’s, officials say

A man crashed a car and ran into a Los Angeles grocery store Sunday afternoon and took hostages during a standoff with police, authorities said.  The man was taken into custody after a tense standoff with police. A hostage was killed during the incident, the Associated Press reported.  The incident started with the shooting of an older and...
Trump Chicken balloon to fly in San Francisco Sunday
Trump Chicken balloon to fly in San Francisco Sunday

Move over Baby Trump balloon, an inflatable Trump Chicken is already making appearances in America. The 33-foot tall inflatable caricature of President Donald Trump will be seen Sunday when it’s attached to a boat and sails along the shores of San Francisco. The chicken, dressed in a shirt with “Prisoner 45” emblazoned across it,...
11-year-old graduates Florida college 
11-year-old graduates Florida college 

When William Maillis was 2-years-old, he learned simple mathematical equations. At 4 he was on to algebra. He was declared a genius when he was 5 by an Ohio State University psychologist. At 9, he graduated high school. Maillis, now 11, turned the tassel on his mortarboard Saturday as he graduated with his associates degree from St. Petersburg College...
More Stories