The 20 year prison sentence a Parker County jury assessed to a 61-year-old Weatherford man for a felony driving while intoxicated charge was upheld on appeal in a ruling handed down last week.
Jose Luis Chavez pled guilty last August and elected to have a jury assess his punishment. Assistant District Attorneys Abigail Placke and Robert DuBoise, who prosecuted the case, introduced records for the jury showing that Chavez had convictions for two misdemeanor DWI’s, a felony DWI case in 2010 for which he was sentenced to five years in prison, as well as prison sentences for possession of marijuana in 1987 and 1992 and for possession of a controlled substance in 2008.
Trial testimony showed that on March 13, 2015, a pickup Chavez was driving nearly struck a Parker County Sheriff’s deputy’s patrol car on North Main Street in Weatherford near a railroad crossing. After the deputy pulled the pickup over, Chavez told him that he had consumed “ten to twenty” beers, failed field sobriety tests, and was arrested. A blood alcohol test showed that Chavez’ alcohol concentration was 0.268, over three times the legal limit of .08.
On appeal, Chavez claimed that his sentence was disproportionate and unconstitutionally cruel and unusual. The Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth affirmed the jury’s verdict, stating that Chavez’s argument had “no merit because the sentence was within the range of applicable punishments and was not grossly disproportionate to the underlying offense in light of his extensive criminal history.”
“In Texas, we trust our juries and vest them with tremendous discretion in wide punishment ranges,” said Assistant District Attorney Jeff Swain. “Our appellate courts are very reluctant to disturb a sentence within the range of punishment.”
Swain said claims like these are seldom successful because the role of an appellate judge, at least in Texas, is not to act as an additional juror supplanting the judgment of the citizens who heard the case with their own. It is to simply make sure that the law was followed during the trial.
“Chavez could still appeal this ruling to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, our highest court for criminal matters,” said Assistant District Attorney Eddy Lewallen, who handled the appeal for the prosecution. “However, they have discretion to decide which cases they want to hear and I doubt that this case presents any issues on which they would like to rule.”