A Texas Drunk Driver Argues Alcoholics are a Protected Class

A San Antonio man attempted to have his fourth DWI conviction overturned on appeal by arguing that Texas’s driving while intoxicated laws discriminate against alcoholics and are therefore unconstitutional.

Ralph Alfred Friesenhahn was arrested for DWI following a single-car accident in rural Comal County, Texas. After the accident, blood tests revealed that Friesenhahn’s blood-alcohol level was 0.29, more than three times the legal limit of 0.08. Friesenhahn has three previous DWI offenses, in 1985, 1990, and 1998.

Following his fourth conviction, Friesenhahn appealed to the 3rd Court of Appeals, claiming that the law that limits a person’s blood-alcohol content to 0.08 discriminated against alcoholics, who have a higher tolerance for alcohol than other, less-regular consumers of alcohol. Friesenhahn, through his attorney, argued that alcoholism is a disability, and therefore a protected class under the Constitution and that the blood-alcohol limitation is discriminatory because alcoholics do not have a chance to prove they still have control of their cognitive abilities at a higher level of blood-alcohol content. Therefore, the 0.08 limit does not apply equally to alcoholics because they are, essentially, better drunk drivers.

Friesenhahn had good reason to appeal his conviction – it resulted in four years in jail. However, the appeals court disagreed with Friesenhahn’s argument, saying that Friesenhahn failed to show that alcoholics were a protected class, but even if they were, the law was not discriminatory because it applied to all drivers equally.

“Friesenhahn’s appeal was denied, meaning that he faces four years in jail. Though Friesenhahn’s conviction may seem well-earned, it is important for anyone reading this to remember that each person has rights under the law that should be protected to the fullest extent possible.”

Another point that Friesenhahn makes is that law enforcement rightfully takes driving while impaired seriously and the 0.08 blood alcohol content is not flexible. “If your BAC is over 0.08, you will be charged, but that doesn’t mean that law enforcement doesn’t have to obey the formalities and respect your rights.”

In the future, that 0.08 may be lower: in 2013 the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that states lower the limit to 0.05 because it could cut fatal accidents in half. Utah embraced the suggestion, passing legislation that will reduce the state’s BAC 0.05 on December 30th.


Stephen Hamilton is an attorney with Hamilton Hull & Byrd Attorneys at Law, a law firm with multiple locations in Texas that regularly represents drivers who have been charged with DWI. Follow him on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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