Daily Archives - December 1, 2013

Questions Raised by Alice Walton’s Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) Case

Alice Walton, the Walmart heiress estimated to be worth about 27 billion dollars, was arrested for driving while intoxicated back in 2011.  In September of this year, she made the news again when it turns out the DWI charge won’t be formally filed.

She was arrested for a DWI in Texas on her 62nd birthday after being pulled over for speeding, allegedly going 71 mph in a construction zone with a speed limit of 55 mph.  She was determined to be intoxicated after a field sobriety test, but she refused to take a breath test.  She wound up getting booked, and was released on $1000 bail.  In the two years that followed, what delayed her prosecution? Why have the charges now been dropped?

Here are some things to consider about her case.

Unsurprisingly, many people are suspicious that she never had formal charges filed against her by prosecutors because of her status and wealth.  Without a doubt, she had a strong legal defense team working for her and negotiating with prosecutors behind the scenes.  Obtaining the best legal representation is important for anyone, regardless of how wealthy or well-known they are.

The case shows that it can take time to formally file charges for a DWI arrest; there’s a two-year window in which to do so, where the police officers need to fully investigate the case and present their evidence to prosecutors, and prosecutors need to do their own review and investigative work to determine what charges to formally file.  Your defense attorney would be on the lookout for improper evidence gathering and whether charges are being filed with insufficient evidence.

The reason prosecutors gave for dropping the charges was the absence of the key witness: the state trooper who pulled over Walton.  He’s currently on paid leave, suspended since February for misconduct allegedly uncovered during an internal investigation.  He would’ve needed to provide testimony about the field sobriety test, which was the basis for Walton’s arrest.  Because there was no blood or breath test administered, there was no way of knowing what her blood-alcohol content actually was that night; the case would have strongly depended on witness testimony.  One would also have to raise questions about how the field sobriety test was conducted by the trooper and what it actually revealed about Walton’s driving.

When an individual suspected of DWI refuses to take a breath test or agree to a blood sample, law enforcement may try to obtain a warrant in order to collect a blood sample.  Why wasn’t a warrant obtained in this case? It may be because the DWI in this case wasn’t a felony offense involving damage to property, injury, or death.  Police will also run a background check to look for previous DWIs, and in Walton’s case nothing turned up, even though in 1998 in Arkansas she was indeed convicted of a DWI.

The extent to which Walton’s wealth and connections played a role in this recent case isn’t known for sure, and wouldn’t be relevant to the vast majority of people who are pulled over for a DWI.  However, what it does show is the uniqueness and complexity of each DWI case; other cases also crumble due to lack of witness testimony or other evidence, or the ways in which they’re investigated.  No matter what circumstances surround your DWI case, you’ll always need the help of a good lawyer to obtain the best possible outcome for you.