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The Bexar County district attorney is modifying DWI prosecution. Here's how.

The Bexar County District Attorney is driving to a different tune in 2023 regarding DWI penalties.

SAN ANTONIO — The Bexar County DA’s office is changing how it prosecutes drunk drivers.

Prosecutors will now accept fewer plea bargains for first-time DWI offenders under certain circumstances.

The goal is to stop offenders from repeating their mistakes, and also to keep drivers off the road who were deemed way too drunk to drive.

KENS 5 spoke with First Assistant DA Christian Henricksen about the change, outlined by Joe Gonzales in an OpEd for the San Antonio Express-News.

Henricksen says since around 2009, the DA’s office had a policy that some first-time DWI offenders would plea down to an obstruction of a highway charge.

The Express-News did a deep dive and found that policy was used loosely over the past 15 years.

“About a quarter of the people who were getting obstruction pleas had a Blood Alcohol Concentration over 0.15, which shouldn’t happen,” Henricksen explains why he thinks so many cases ended this way.

“Obstruction can be a very good tool in the toolbox and I think people got very comfortable using it and to the extent that it was being used much more broadly than anticipated,” he said.

Now, the DA’s eliminated exceptions to the rule. 

Their policy is to only offer obstruction if your BAC was below 0.15, if you’re a first-time offender and if there wasn’t an accident. Obstruction won’t be offered to anyone with a prior DWI-related offense either.

“As we know, these crimes are 100% preventable,” Natalie Paulus, victim services manager with MADD shared her thoughts on the change in policy.

“We’re definitely in support of this decision. We want to ensure that all offenders, all alleged offenders are held accountable for their actions, and this kind of policy change that the DA is putting into place, it certainly seems to do that,” Paulus said.

Henricksen says less than 10 percent of people who plead to obstruction would re-offend, compared to 13% recidivism for DWI.

The goal of this policy change to keep fewer drunk drivers on the roads.

“We have seen over the last 10 years or so, a reduction of the number of DWI cases in Bexar County but we’re still way too high. And if people make that decision, they’re going to be held accountable,” Henricksen added.



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