Jim Hooter Merrill Jr. was convicted of driving while intoxicated with an open container on July 20 after the jury deliberated for approximately an hour.
Presiding Judge Ron Cohen then sentenced the 48-year-old Sugar Land man to a yearlong probation. Merrill was charged with the crime in 2013 after driving by a highway patrolman with a broken headlight.
The state presented evidence at trial that Texas DPS Trooper Edwin Lara had just finished a traffic stop on U.S. Highway 59 northbound near Sweetwater Boulevard at approximately 12:45 a.m. on Oct. 13, 2013, when he saw a truck driving with a broken headlight. Lara stopped the truck and identified the driver as Merrill. The trooper noticed that the defendant had red and watery eyes, and that there was a strong smell of alcohol coming from his truck. When Merrill got out of his vehicle, Lara noticed that the smell of alcohol was coming from the Merrill’s breath. Lara evaluated Merrill’s ability to drive safely using several standardized field sobriety tests, which revealed that the defendant was intoxicated. During the investigation, Merrill admitted to drinking 6-7 beers. The trooper also discovered a Styrofoam cup with an alcoholic beverage and an almost-empty bottle of whiskey in the center console of Merrill’s truck. The defendant agreed to provide a breath sample that showed that his breath alcohol content was .148 – almost double the legal limit.
In closing arguments, the state highlighted the testimony of forensic scientist Alva Barbosa regarding the breath test and its accuracy, noting that it was “the elephant in the room” that the defense simply could not avoid. The jury agreed, rendering a swift guilty verdict.
“I’m proud of the jury for recognizing proven science and rendering swift justice,” said Brandon Marc Draper, lead prosecutor on the case.
Merrill was tried in County Court at Law No. 5. Driving while intoxicated in this case is a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and/or a fine up to $2,000. Merrill must also attend a DWI education class, a victim impact panel, perform 30 hours of community service and pay a $500 fine, all of which were conditions of probation that were imposed by Judge Cohen.
Assistant district attorneys Draper and Madison Limbacher prosecuted the case. Attorney Anthony Segura represented the defendant.