If you have been arrested for a DWI in Texas, you know that this is a very confusing and upsetting ordeal. There is a deep unpleasant aftertaste of being in jail. This is especially true if this a first time arrest. There can be feelings of violation, and feelings of regret. If you refused to consent to a blood draw, and a police officer got a warrant to search your body for evidence of intoxication, and they drew your blood anyway, this can be a shocking experience. Regardless of what happened to you, and what the circumstances of your case are, the one thing that can help you from feeling overwhelmed, and from feeling powerless, is control over the situation. The only way to acquire control over the situation in the wake of a DWI arrest is to gather information. Information about the process, and answers to your questions will help you greatly. This page provides information and insight for different questions and aspects that arise when facing a DWI charge. Because my practice occurs primarily in Tarrant County, Parker County, and surrounding Counties in North Texas, much of this discussion is about how DWI is prosecuted and defended in those places. However, many of the tools that law enforcement agencies across Texas employ to enforce and prosecute DWI charges is similar. The procedures and tools to arrest and prosecute people are standardized. For one thing, the field sobriety tests are standardized throughout the Country, not just Texas. The procedures for breath testing is the same across Texas. This page addresses some of the key questions that can loom for anyone arrested for DWI, or anyone who is worrying about a close friend of family member who has been.
What is Going to Happen?
From the day a person is arrested until their case ends can span a long time. A case begins when police observe a traffic violation and flash the red and blue lights to stop someone. If police suspect driving while intoxicated, they will conduct an investigation that may lead to an arrest. The investigation includes field sobriety tests. The field sobriety tests include the horizontal game nystagmus test (the eye test), the walk and turn test, and the one leg stand test. These are scored by a police officer and filmed. Once a person is arrested, they face the question of whether to take a breath test at the police station, or a possible blood draw taken at a local hospital. Then, when they get out of jail, there are more questions and more concerns. A person has to to deal with the possible suspension of their driver's license, and confront the looming questions about their criminal case. What does going to court mean? What will it mean if it results in a conviction? Will this mean more time spent in jail? What does probation involve and what will this entail? How can the case be won if there is a breath test or a blood test? Here are some questions that clients ask me often:
- What Will a Conviction Mean?
- What About Jail Time?
- What Will Happen to My Driver’s License?
- What about Probation?
- What About Costs and Fines?
What Will a Conviction Mean?
A conviction occurs when a person pleads guilty and a judge finds them guilty, or it occurs when a person goes to trial and a jury finds them guilty. There are different reasons a person gets convicted. Sometimes it is favorable when a person and their attorney plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence. A conviction for DWI can involve fines, court costs, and surcharges. A conviction can also include a requirement that the ignition interlock be installed or maintained, although if an interlock is required it was likely also a condition of bond. A conviction can be ultimately sealed from a person's record, and the details of that are discussed below. Convictions also differ from deferred adjudication. Some criminal charges allow for deferred adjudication, which keeps a conviction off of person's record provided that they complete an agreed-upon term of probation. At the end of the probationary term, the judge will dismiss the case. Unfortunately, DWI does not allow for deferred adjudication. Sometimes, a DWI charge can get reduced to Obstruction of a Highway and this is a charge that allows deferred adjudication. Furthermore, this is a result that avoids the surcharge fees that are the bane of a DWI conviction. However, this reduction is not always possible. A conviction for a misdemeanor DWI can carry up to a year in jail and up to a $4,000 fine. But even in the worst circumstances, a year in jail would be an extreme result. A conviction for a DWI can involve either probation or jail time, and sometimes it can involve both, and jail time is discussed in greater depth below in the next section.
What About Jail Time?
Anyone who is charged with a DWI has been arrested and already has had the harsh and terrifying taste of jail, and does not want to go back. The question about whether or not they will go back to jail looms. For a first time DWI, jail time is a possible result. When a person is arrested for DWI and if they have never had one before, and provided there is no accident with injuries, the charge will be either a class A or a class B misdemeanor. Whether the charge is one or the other depends on what the blood alcohol concentration is. If the BAC result returns from the lab with a reading of 0.15 grams per deciliter or higher, the charge will be a Class A. If it comes back lower than 0.15, it will be a class B. Either charge carries the potential of jail time for a person convicted. This is an important distinction, because Class A misdemeanors carry a maximum of one year in jail. Class B misdemeanors levy up to six months in jail. Are these likely results for a person convicted of a first time DWI? No. These are the extreme limits of possibility. Jail time is a possible result, but most people choose probation that bypasses jail. If probation is not violated and is completed successfully, jail time will be avoided. However, sometimes jail is preferable if the judge allows it to be served on labor detail. Labor detail is for Tarrant County DWI cases. It is a program run by the Tarrant County Sheriff's Office, and it offers to show up and work for the County in lieu of spending days locked up in jail. Generally, it is a way for a person to end their case quickly without a looming probationary term. Whether or not this is available to depends on the facts and circumstances of the case, as well as which court the case is in. Some judges allow labor detail and some judges do not.
What Will Happen to My Driver's License?
There are two processes that take place when a person gets arrested for DWI. There is the criminal case, which has been discussed above. There are also the implications for the person's driver's license. When a person gets arrested, the police officer will read them a long and tedious form called the DIC-24 which requests a breath or blood test and explains their right to refuse and what the implications will be for consent and for refusal. The length of the suspension depends on whether or not they ultimately consent to or refuse a breath test or blood test. On a first time DWI, a consent that leads to a BAC above 0.08 grams per deciliter means a three month driver's license suspension. If a person consents and provides a result that is under 0.08, there is no driver's license suspension, although the criminal case may go forward despite this. If a person refuses to take a breath or blood test, there will be a six month suspension regardless of what the result is. Refusing the test these days is kind of a misnomer. Before the proliferation of blood testing, a refusal to take a breath test meant that there likely would not be a test. These days, a refusal almost always means that the officer will now prepare a warrant to draw blood. This will delay the process but it will still result in a blood test result. The police officer will fill out an affidavit for search warrant and fax it to a judge, who will sign a search warrant. Some smaller police agencies in smaller Texas Counties might not go to the trouble to get a blood search warrant, although it is still surprising to see a DWI arrest without a blood or breath test. Regardless of consent or refusal, a person has a right to a hearing which must be requested within 15 days of arrest. However, if a person consents to a blood test, this process will be delayed pending the results of the blood test, which takes some time to come back from the lab. The hearing is administrative and largely unrelated to the criminal process. The hearing takes place at one of the State Office of Administrative Hearings across the state. The state has a lower burden of proof in administrative license revocations, and only must prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. The burden in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt, which is substantially higher. If a person loses their driver's license for three or six months, an occupational driver's license can be obtained.
What About Probation?
Probation is a common outcome in DWI cases. Many DWI cases end up with some kind of probation at the end, although the terms of probation differ from case to case. Depending on the circumstances and the facts of the case and the efforts of your attorney, two cases that both end up in probation can differ a great deal. Probation can vary in length, and the money involved can also vary in terms of fines. There are two kinds of probation in criminal cases. There is straight probation and there is deferred probation. Deferred probation, as described above, occurs when a judge does not enter a finding of guilty, and the case gets dismissed pending completion or early release from probation. Deferred probation has not been available for DWI since 1984. There is only straight probation available for a DWI. However, if the case gets reduced to a lesser charge, deferred can become available. Generally, the reduction is to an Obstruction of a Highway. Obstruction of a highway is a Class B misdemeanor, so it is not always a reduction in terms of the level of the charge, but it has many benefits. With an obstruction, a person arrested for a DWI will avoid the surcharges. That is the biggest financial benefit. Also the stigma of a DWI conviction will be avoided. A deferred adjudication for obstruction of a highway will also be dismissed, provided that probation and conditions are completed successfully. This can be ultimately be sealed from a person's criminal record. This was formerly a huge benefit to getting this reduction. However, the laws have changed for the better and a person who has been convicted of a DWI can now get a non-disclosure of a DWI conviction.
What About Costs and Fines?
There are different costs that arise from a DWI arrest. There is the initial cost of getting out of jail. Getting out of jail is called bonding out, and to bond out of jail a judge must set a bond. Judges are required to set a reasonable bond, which allows someone to get out of jail. A reasonable bond on a first DWI will generally be between several hundred dollars to one thousand dollars. This depends on the county. Bond can be paid in full by the person arrested or their family, or a bondsman can be hired for a fraction of this amount. If bond is paid in full, the money will be returned when the case ends. Apart from bonding out of jail, there is the cost of hiring an attorney. The costs of retaining an attorney can vary greatly depending on the experience, skill, and caliber of the attorney. Aside from the costs of getting out of jail and hiring an attorney, there are costs that result from a criminal conviction as well. If the DWI results in a conviction, there are costs, fines, and surcharges to worry about. The fines and administrative fees that could be up to $2,000 for a Class B misdemeanor, and up to $4,000 for a Class A misdemeanor. Surcharges are fees imposed by DPS upon conviction and must be paid to prevent a driver's license suspension. After a person gets a DWI conviction, DPS will send a letter in the mail informing them of the surcharges. Surcharges are required to get your driver’s license back. On a first DWI, the surcharges will be $1,000 per year for three years. And that surcharge becomes $2,000 per year for three years if the conviction included a finding of a BAC of 0.16 or higher. There are also costs for probation, if probation is part of the plea. There will also be potentially higher insurance rates. There may also be the costs of installing an interlock device on your car. A conviction will remain on a person's criminal record.
The Right DWI Lawyer will Fight to Prevent a First Time DWI Texas Conviction
This page might feel like lots of bad news, and much of it is a very punitive and harsh. There are a lot of aspects and costs that accompany a DWI, and more than accompany a DWI conviction. The good news is that a skilled and experienced DWI lawyer can work the case and fight to prevent and avoid damage. To convict a person of a criminal charge, guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high burden, and it is the job of the criminal defense lawyer to explain to jurors how high of a burden this is. Cases can be won, and hope can be found, even in hopeless cases. There are always things to challenge and examine and critique. There are ways to attack and undermine all parts of the case against you. In a DWI analysis, everything must be looked at and analyzed. A skilled defense lawyer can successfully attack and cast doubt on the validity of the breath test, undermine the reliability of the blood test, dispute and cast doubt on an officer's impressions contained in a police report, take the air out of the impact of the field sobriety test by showing the jury how difficult the tests can be. Not every case can be a Not Guilty, and it would be foolish and dishonest to suggest otherwise. However, even in bad cases, good deals can be made, and people can get out from under the shadow of a criminal charge, and get on with their lives.