Police car in traffic

How to Choose an Attorney For a DWI Case

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

Being arrested for DWI can be an overwhelming and stressful experience. After a typical DWI arrest, it is common to spend a day or more in jail until you bond out and then you may have to retrieve your car. A critical step in dealing with a DWI arrest is choosing a DWI attorney. In the Houston area, there are countless attorneys who take DWIs but how do you choose the right one for your case?

The first thing to say about choosing a DWI attorney is that you should take your time. When you are released from jail, you will likely be bombarded with text messages from attorneys pressuring you to hire them. Very few reputable attorneys engage in the practice of texting defendants directly, as this is a very legally questionable practice. Within a day or two after you are released from jail, you will also receive a huge number of letters from attorneys offering their services. 

Contrary to the high-pressure sales pitches many of these attorneys may attempt to use, there is no need to hire an attorney immediately after you are released from jail. In a typical DWI, the only urgent matter is making a request for your driver’s license hearing within 15 days from the date of your arrest (and if you are close to the deadline, you can always make the request yourself). That means that you have time to do your research and choose the right attorney for your case. 

The first thing to consider when choosing a DWI attorney is the attorney’s level of experience with DWIs. Although the vast majority of DWIs filed in the Greater Houston area are misdemeanors, DWIs are one of the most technical criminal cases to defend. This is because DWIs involve specialized police procedure and training, the law of search and seizure (which controls traffic stops and police detentions), and the science of breath or blood testing. Without proper experience and training, an attorney would not even know how to spot issues that are important to a defense, let alone be able to effectively present the issues in court. 

There are countless examples of why experience matters in a DWI case. One example is challenging the breath test. When a DWI involves a breath test, one basic strategy is to try to get the breath test thrown out of court. One common error that police officers make is not following the “15-minute rule” which states that prior to a suspect taking a breath test, he should be in a police officer’s presence for 15 minutes immediately before the breath test is taken (because the breath test measure stomach alcohol, the officer is supposed to observe the defendant does not burp, which could falsely elevate the results). To be able to do this, it is sometimes necessary to obtain station video and other records to prove that the 15-minute rule was not complied with. If a DWI attorney shows a violation, this can be a knockout blow in a DWI case. But an attorney with limited DWI experience would likely not even know this is an issue, let alone be able to effectively raise it in court.  

In addition to gaining experience through trials, DWI attorneys also gain experience by attending legal seminars and completing other specialized training. For example, lawyers who dedicate their practice to DWIs will often undergo the same training that police officers undergo to be certified in administering police balance tests, or training in laboratories to be able to understand and operate the blood testing machines that are used in DWI cases. 

Next, it is critical to hire an attorney who is actually a trial lawyer. Many lawyers who accept DWIs have not had a jury trial in years. If you hire such a lawyer, a dismissal is generally less likely because these lawyers do not have the benefit of the experience gained during trial and can also lack a certain amount of respect from prosecutors (an important tool in a DWI attorneys arsenal is the threat of setting a case for trial). A criminal defense attorney should always be a trial lawyer, but unfortunately this is frequently not the case. Many criminal defense attorneys are too inexperienced, lazy or busy to be willing to take cases to trial.

The next thing to consider is a DWI attorney’s familiarity with the court system of a particular county. Of course, it is always beneficial for a DWI attorney to be familiar with judges, prosecutors and court staff. Additionally, it is a good idea for a DWI attorney to be knowledgeable about how the District Attorney’s Office and even law enforcement agencies operate. 

Last but not least, it is important that you are able to communicate effectively with your DWI attorney. In addition to representing you in court, it is the job of your DWI attorney to help you understand the evidence in your case and advise you on how to move forward. It is important that your DWI attorney be patient, explain issues clearly, and make himself available to answer your questions. 

When hiring a DWI attorney, it is a good idea to do your research and speak to several attorneys to understand their approach, experience and to get a sense of their communication style. In the Houston area, it is not uncommon for a DWI to take a year or longer to resolve, so it is important that you make an informed decision.  

Attorney Jose Ceja is a former prosecutor who has spent hundreds of hours studying the law, procedure and science involved in DWIs. He is certified to administer police balance tests and has attended the well-known Axion labs course on blood testing. Mr. Ceja regularly obtains excellent results in DWI cases throughout the Greater Houston area, including Harris County, Fort Bend County, Montgomery County, Waller County, Liberty County, Galveston County, Brazoria County and Chambers County. Get in touch with our team today.

About the Author
Jose Ceja is the managing attorney of Ceja Law Firm. He has practiced law since 2007 and has devoted his career to the practice of criminal law. Mr. Ceja began his legal career as a felony drug prosecutor, where he prosecuted drug, gang, and violent offenses. Mr. Ceja has first or second chaired almost 100 trials, including murders, drug cases, DWIs, and assaults. In his career as a defense attorney, he has regularly obtained dismissals, not guilty verdicts, and grand jury “no bills” in a wide variety of cases.
Posted in DWI