Most people believe that the type of vehicle you are driving at the time of arrest makes a difference in whether or not you will be charged with a DWI. This belief is not true. You can receive a DWI just as quickly on a motorcycle as you can in a motor vehicle.
In fact, motorcycle DWI arrests are becoming increasingly rampant in Fort Worth. This is primarily due to the negative perception Texas law enforcement agencies have on motorcyclists. Often, motorcyclists are blamed for aggressive riding, road rage, speeding, and tailgating, among other traffic rules violations.
As a motorcyclist, you need to learn how to protect your legal rights when you've been arrested for a DWI. This is why we’ve written this article specifically for you.
If you or your loved one is facing motorcycle DWI charges, we invite you to contact us at the Fort Worth DWI Defense Lawyer for a free consultation. We will help you build a robust defense strategy.
What is Motorcycle DWI?
Simply put, the term ‘motorcycle DWI’ refers to the act of riding a motorcycle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Penal Code 49.04 is Texas’ primary law on DWI.
According to PC 49.04, it is unlawful to operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated. Note that there isn’t any section of the Texas Penal Code stating that it is unlawful to ride a motorcycle while under the influence.
However, Texan courts have held that PC 49.04 also covers motorcycles. They have held that the term ‘motor vehicle’ is a blanket word, which encompasses all the known types of vehicles, including motorcycles. Therefore, a DWI is a DWI, regardless of whether you were driving a car, bus, truck, lawnmower, commercial vehicle, tractor, golf cart, go-kart, moped, scooter, or a motorcycle.
This means that if you become convicted of motorcycle DWI, you will face the same penalties as those an individual convicted of normal DWI would. The judge will not consider any special considerations while sentencing you simply because you were riding a motorcycle.
What do the Police Look For?
It is quick to get a motorcycle DWI. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are specific cues that law enforcement use to determine whether or not a motorcyclist is riding while under the influence. The NHTSA divides these cues into two:
- The ‘excellent’ cues
- The ‘good’ cues
The NHTSA claims that the ‘excellent’ cues directly correlate to intoxication by over 50%. It also alleges that the ‘good’ cues usually mean that the motorcyclist is intoxicated 30 – 49% of the time.
As we all know, the NHTSA is a federal organization that sets nationwide standards for all transportation activities. It also sets the rules for the detection of DWI in all US states. This means that the Fort Worth Police Department uses these cues to assess whether or not a motorcyclist is riding while intoxicated.
We know that often, these cues do not imply that a motorcyclist is under the influence. However, the NHTSA asserts that it came up with these cues after interviewing experienced police officers from all over the country and analyzing over 1000 motorcycle DWI reports. Here is a detailed discussion of these cues:
The ‘Excellent’ Cues
As per the NHTSA, the following are the excellent cues for motorcycle DWI:
- Drifting during curve or turn
- Trouble dismounting
- Turning problems
- Unusual or inappropriate behavior
- Not being attentive to surroundings
- Trouble with balance at a stop
Here is a brief discussion of each of these cues:
Drifting during Curve or Turn
If a police officer sees you taking a wider turn than is necessary, he/she may pull you over and subject you to a DWI investigation. The NHTSA does not specify the criteria that the police should use when deciding how a turn is wider than necessary. Therefore, a police officer may be biased against you and pull you over for no apparent reason.
Moreover, when you are cornering, it may seem that you are taking a wider turn than is necessary. This can cause you to be pulled over for a DWI investigation.
As a motorcyclist, you should maintain only one lane. You may be pulled over for a DWI investigation if you cross in between lanes or even for excessive movement within your lane.
Sometimes, you may change lanes to avoid a roadside hazard. Unfortunately, the police might mistakenly believe that you are riding while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Most police officers believe that a motorcyclist who has trouble dismounting is intoxicated. This is not always true.
It can sometimes be challenging to maintain balance while dismounting from a motorcycle, especially if you utilized the kickstand to park. In this situation, dismounting involves a complex and short movement of shifting weight from one foot onto the other, which is considered a sign of intoxication.
Unusual or Inappropriate Behavior
The NHTSA lists certain behaviors that it considers to be unusual or inappropriate. Some of these behaviors include dropping or carrying an object, disorderly conduct, and urinating alongside the road.
Although the NHTSA lists these behaviors, the term ‘unusual or inappropriate behavior’ is a blanket phrase, and you may be arrested for DWI due to a wide array of reasons. Generally, police officers have the discretion to determine that a particular behavior is inappropriate or unusual.
Typically, the police look for general unsteadiness or wobbling during turning. If your motorbike has a mechanical problem that makes you wobble during turning, the police can mistakenly believe that you are intoxicated.
Moreover, the police will look for other erratic movements during turning, including improper leaning angles and late braking. Most police officers are not bikers, and they know nothing about riding. Therefore, they can construe any erratic movement you make during turning to be a sign of intoxication.
Not Being Attentive to Surroundings
It would be best if you had full concentration while riding. A law enforcement officer may pull you over if you become distracted.
In Fort Worth, the leading form of distraction is mobile phone usage. Besides mobile phone usage, there are numerous distractions, such as listening to music, reading billboards, and waving to people you know. Note that riding while distracted is considered to be unlawful. Unfortunately, riding while distracted is commonly used as a fall-back excuse by police officers, especially if they pulled you over for no apparent reason.
Trouble with Balance at a Stop
If you have trouble balancing your motorcycle when pulled over, you may be subjected to a DWI investigation. Typically, an unimpaired biker will place one of his feet on the ground to help the motorcycle remain steady and the other one on the peg when pulling over. On the other hand, an intoxicated biker will shift his/her weight from foot to foot, trying to maintain balance.
However, this doesn’t mean that a motorcyclist who shifts his/her weight from foot to foot while stopping is intoxicated. Other reasons can make a motorcyclist have trouble balancing, including sickness and anxiety.
The ‘Good’ Cues
According to the NHTSA, the following are the good cues for motorcycle DWI:
- Erratic movements while going straight
- Riding without lights during the night
- Running a stop sign or light
Here is a brief discussion of each of them:
Erratic Movements while Going Straight
The NHTSA trains police officers to believe that if a motorcyclist is making sudden corrections or erratic movements while going straight, then he/she is probably intoxicated. However, a sober rider can make an erratic movement due to other reasons.
For example, a motorcyclist can make an erratic movement if one of his/her motorcycle parts is faulty. Unfortunately, this motorcyclist can be flagged down for DWI, even though he/she is perfectly sober.
Riding without Lights during the Night
If you operate without lights during the night, a police officer can motion you to pull over for a DWI investigation. Most police officers assume that motorcyclists who ride without lights during the night are usually intoxicated.
As a motorcyclist, you may be forced to ride without lights during the night due to various reasons, including a faulty lighting system. Operating a motorcycle without lights does not always mean that the rider is under the influence.
Do not make a mistake of evading a police officer if he/she motions you to pull over. If you do so, the police officer might suspect that you are under the influence. If he/she finally gets hold of you, you may be subjected to a DWI investigation.
Furthermore, note that evading a police officer is considered to be a criminal offense in Texas. This means that you can be charged with both the offenses of DWI and evading a police officer. If you are in this situation, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who will help you build a robust defense strategy.
Running a Stop Sign or Light
According to Texas Transportation Code 544.010, it is unlawful to run a stop sign or light. The NHTSA highlights that motorcyclists who run stop signs or lights have a higher probability of being intoxicated.
This means that you can be flagged down and subjected to a DWI investigation if you run a stoplight. Additionally, you may also receive a traffic ticket and a point on your DPS record.
Following too closely is not only dangerous, but it is also deemed to be one of the signs of intoxication. Ideally, you should maintain a one-meter distance between you and the motor vehicle in front of you.
However, certain situations can force you to follow too closely, especially if there is heavy traffic. Regardless of why you are following too closely, a police officer may pull you over and subject you to a DWI investigation.
You can easily make this mistake, especially if you are riding in a town with numerous one-way streets during the night. But, the NHTSA believes that motorcyclists who make these mistakes are usually under the influence.
A law enforcement officer can pull you over simply because you’ve taken the wrong way. If the law enforcement officer believes that you are intoxicated, he/she may subject you to a DWI investigation.
How you can be Arrested for Motorcycle DWI
Remember, law enforcement departments typically use the NHTSA cues to determine whether or not a motorcyclist is riding while under the influence. If a police officer believes that you are intoxicated, he/she will motion you to pull over for a DWI investigation.
Once you pull over, the police officer may attempt to start a conversation with you. As you speak, he/she will be looking out for any physical symptoms of intoxication, such as:
- Slurred speech
- Red eyes
- Flushed face
- Alcoholic stench
You may also unknowingly admit to the police officer that you are intoxicated. For instance, you may tell him/her that you’ve just had a couple of drinks with your friends.
Sometimes, the police officer may request you to consent to a search. Please do not accept the search unless he/she produces a search warrant. If you accept it, he/she may find or plant incriminating evidence on your person, including an empty bottle of alcohol or a small packet of cocaine.
If the police officer believes that you are under the influence, he/she may subject you to a DWI breath test. If your BAC level exceeds 0.08%, you may be put under arrest for motorcycle DWI.
The police officer can also subject you to a field sobriety test (FST). He/she may ask you to perform specific physical movements to ascertain whether you are intoxicated. The law enforcement officer will arrest you for DWI if you fail the FST.
What Happens After Arrest?
When a law enforcement officer arrests you, he/she will take you to the police station. Then, you will be booked, and you will be placed into custody.
While at the police station, one of the officers may attempt to question you. It would be best if you remain silent and ask for permission to contact a criminal defense attorney. If you cooperate with them, you may unknowingly incriminate yourself. You may also be subjected to a DWI blood test, especially if the investigating police officer believes that you are under the influence of drugs.
You will only be released after you’ve posted bail. If you cannot afford the bail amount set, you should consider using a bail bondsman service.
What Must the Prosecutor Prove?
To be convicted of motorcycle DWI, the prosecutor must prove the following two elements:
- You were riding
- You were under the influence of alcohol or drugs
Let us discuss these two elements briefly:
You were Riding
The prosecutor must demonstrate that you were riding. Although this may seem to be straightforward, it isn’t.
Unfortunately, motorcyclists are a targeted group in Fort Worth. It's difficult for the public and even the police officers to get over stereotypes.
As a motorcyclist, you can be arrested for DWI even if you were not riding. For instance, you may have stopped in traffic to answer an emergency phone call, and a police officer appears out of the blue and starts claiming that you are intoxicated. In this situation, the prosecutor may not have any evidence to show that you were riding, especially if you have witnesses who are willing to testify that you were doing something else.
In Texas criminal cases, the burden of proof is usually on the prosecution, and the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor must have sufficient evidence to show that you were riding. In most cases, his/her degree of evidence will not reach the prescribed standard, and as a result, you will be acquitted.
You were under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs
The prosecutor must prove that you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Typically, prosecutors in Fort Worth prove this element by asserting that:
- You were physically impaired
- Your BAC was or exceeded 0.08%
If the prosecutor alleges that you were physically impaired, he/she may provide evidence showing that you were riding carelessly. The prosecutor can also argue that you demonstrated certain physical symptoms of intoxication.
Alternatively, the prosecutor can produce your BAC test results, which show that your BAC was or exceeded 0.08%. If you cannot contest these results, then the judge will convict you of ‘per se DWI.’
The Penalties for Motorcycle DWI
The penalties for motorcycle DWI vary depending on the type of charge. In Fort Worth, DWI is considered to be a priorable offense. This means that its penalties increase depending on the number of prior convictions.
If you do not have any prior convictions for DWI, you may face the following penalties:
- A fine of up to $2,000
- Imprisonment for 3 – 180 days
- A probation period of a maximum of two years
These penalties will increase if you have prior DWI convictions. You will also receive more severe punishments if:
- Your BAC was 0.15% or higher
- You had a child who was below 14 years old as one of your passengers
- You caused an accident
Additionally, the judge may order you to attend a drug and alcohol addiction treatment program. If you are placed on probation, you may be ordered to do community service.
How You May Lose your Driver’s License
If you’ve been convicted of motorcycle DWI, the DPS can revoke your driver’s license. To reinstate it, you will have to fulfill specific requirements, including installing an ignition interlock device (IID).
Most people believe that you cannot lose your license due to motorcycle DWI. This belief is not true; a motorcycle DWI is treated just like any other DWI.
Upon conviction for motorcycle DWI, you will lose all your driving privileges. You won't be able to drive or ride any other vehicle or motorcycle you own until the suspension period imposed by the DPS lapses.
Legal Defenses to Motorcycle DWI
The legal defenses to motorcycle DWI are similar to those for any other DWI. Some of the most common defenses to motorcycle DWI include:
- The BAC test results were inaccurate
- The police officer violated your human rights
- You were not physically impaired
- Your BAC was on the rise
- The police officer did not follow the proper procedure when conducting the BAC test
- You were not riding
- The BAC results were falsely high due to the presence of mouth alcohol
The legal defenses that you will use depend on the facts and circumstances of your case. It would be best to consult an experienced DWI defense attorney to know which ones can help you win your case. If you have a robust defense strategy, the jury can acquit you, or the judge may dismiss your case.
Sometimes, a plea bargain can be the best bet to obtain a more favorable outcome, especially if the prosecution has an overwhelming evidence against you. Your attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor to make him/her accept to charge you with a less serious offense, such as dry reckless or a traffic infraction. Then, you will plead guilty to the offense. The primary benefit of a plea bargain is that you will receive less severe penalties.
If you get convicted of motorcycle DWI, your attorney can convince the judge to issue you less severe punishments. There are other alternative sentencing options for motorcycle DWI, such as alcohol or drug rehab, sober living environments, community service, and electronic monitoring. If the judge consents to any of these alternative sentencing options, you will have avoided jail time.
Find a Motorcycle DWI Defense Attorney Near Me
Get in touch with Fort Worth DWI Defense Lawyer for professional legal help if you’ve been charged with motorcycle DWI in Fort Worth. We can help you obtain the best favorable outcome in your case. Call us today at 817-470-2128 for a free consultation.