Cheaper to Call a Cab
Brent de la Paz on the new wave of DWI forensic law
Published in 2015 Texas Rising Stars magazine
on March 6, 2015
Updated on March 9, 2015
Brent de la Paz defends clients charged with driving while intoxicated. It doesn’t sound like he wants more work.
“The advice I give is to be prepared. If you’re going to drink more than one, it’s cheaper to call a cab than to call me. But if you are stopped, understand that the officer has a job to do, and it’s likely he is going to arrest you. That’s when you need me,” de la Paz says.
He started handling DWI cases because that’s what walked in the door—and most often needed to go to trial—when he hung his shingle in 2005. He got hooked when he discovered that the technical and legal aspects of DWI cases fascinated him. “I wanted to know whatever I could about the subject matter. I wanted to know more than the officers.”
To that end, de la Paz took several advanced courses in the science of gas chromatography, which law enforcement uses to quantify how much ethanol is in a defendant’s blood.
“Gas chromatography is supposed to be an exact science, but [with] the push toward blood draws, labs are understaffed to handle the volume,” he says. “If you put garbage in, you get garbage out. So if there was an error with the draw or the storage, the chromatography machine cannot tell that.”
One of his mentors in what de la Paz calls the “new wave” of DWI forensic law, Deandra M. Grant, handles cases in Dallas and Collin counties. She says modern DWI defense tactics are more science-based. De la Paz and Grant were lab partners at an American Chemical Society gas chromatography course at Axion Analytical Laboratories in Chicago. The two often stay in touch to discuss trends.
“Brent is on the cutting edge of modern DWI defense,” Grant says. “He pushed forward to take the training, which is not easy or cheap, but he has dedicated himself to being far better able to defend his clients.”
De la Paz defines DWI as a black-or-white offense. “It’s either on your record forever or it’s not. For example, someone in the military might lose security clearance if a DWI stays on his record. Or someone who drives for a living might lose a job. I like to stand up for people. I want to be the one who takes the brunt.”
De la Paz says Texas drivers need to know their options when stopped by the police. The law allows an officer to request field sobriety, breath, blood or urine tests, but it also says drivers have the right to refuse. In fact, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded last November that taking a driver’s blood without permission or a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment.
“But if law enforcement tells you, ‘We’ll get a warrant,’ even more legal issues come into play, because drinking alcohol is not illegal. Neither is smelling like alcohol or having bloodshot eyes. And there is no way an officer can tell a judge how much alcohol is in your blood at the time he stops you. But for proof, the officer can use videos, which can be damaging.”
When a client needs help with alcohol or drug addiction, de la Paz will get him to the right place. “I’ve seen excellent results from participation in drug court,” he says. “Everything can’t be win, win, win. It has to be a complete view of what is best for that particular person.”
A Corpus Christi native, de la Paz attended the University of Texas at San Antonio and interned with the district attorney’s office. “I really wanted to be a prosecutor, but God had other plans.”
After law school at South Texas College of Law in Houston, de la Paz worked for the Bexar County Criminal District Attorney’s office in San Antonio. He accepted an offer for a prosecutor’s role in another town, but that position first had to be created. Between jobs, de la Paz found himself in demand as consultant to San Antonio defense firms.
“Things snowballed from there,” he says. His office is a half block from the courthouse, which is fitting, since he is in court every day.
“I love making an immediate difference, helping people, guiding people. Maybe my client is young and gets caught with a bit of marijuana. Maybe there’s another way to take care of this offense without marring his record forever.”
De la Paz doesn’t have a catchy slogan. Instead, he relies mostly on referrals. “My grandfather always said if somebody likes what you do, they’ll tell a few people, but if somebody doesn’t like what you do, they’ll tell hundreds.”