Every week in Houston, dozens of people are arrested for DWI. Most first-time DWI arrests in Houston are charged as misdemeanors, and a large portion of defendants arrested have no prior criminal history. If you have been charged with DWI in Houston, you may be wondering what to expect from your DWI case. This article discusses a typical first-time DWI in Harris County and what is likely to happen to your case.
Unless there is an accident resulting in serious injuries, or a minor passenger, a first-time DWI arrest is filed as a misdemeanor in Texas. A first-time DWI with a breath or blood test score of under .15 is filed as a Class “B” misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2000 fine. A first-time DWI with a breath or blood test score of .15 or higher is filed as a Class “A” misdemeanor (if you gave blood, a first-time DWI will be filed as a Class “A” misdemeanor, but that could be increased to a Class “A” if the result comes back .15 or higher).
After your arrest, there is no real urgency to do anything or hire a lawyer right away. You can expect to receive text messages and even phone calls from attorneys offering their services (it is actually illegal for attorneys to solicit business by making unsolicited phone calls to defendants). Do not fall for high pressure tactics. Instead, it is a good idea to take your time and hire the right attorney.
In most DWIs, the only time-sensitive matter related to your driver’s license hearing. In Texas, when you are arrested for DWI, you will typically have a hearing against your driving privileges known as an Administrative License Revocation (ALR) case. This hearing it totally separate from the DWI, but because it is based on the same incident, your DWI attorney should request and handle the hearing for you. When you are arrested for DWI, you will be asked to give a sample of your breath or blood. If you refuse, that triggers an ALR suspension of 180 days. If you give a sample higher than the legal limit, that triggers an ALR suspension of 90 days. In either event, your DWI attorney must make a request to fight the suspension of your driving privileges within 15 days.
Procedurally, an ALR hearing can be a little tricky so it is important to have an experienced DWI attorney handle your ALR hearing. If your request for an ALR hearing is made on time, your driving privileges will remain valid unless they are suspended at the hearing. Most experienced DWI attorneys win a high percentage of their ALR hearings. However, if your driving privileges are suspended, it is possible to quickly obtain an occupational driver’s license hearing.
If you are arrested for DWI in Houston, you will usually see a magistrate judge after you are arrested who will set your bond (or give you a free bond), and set some bond conditions. Your case will then be assigned to a county court at law. In Houston, there are 16 county courts at law that handle misdemeanor DWIs. Your case will be randomly assigned to one of the 16. All of the misdemeanor courts in Harris County are located at 1201 Franklin St, in downtown Houston.
A few days after you are released from the Harris County Jail, you will typically have a court appearance scheduled in front of the judge who will handle your case. In a DWI, most judges will typically review bail conditions set by a magistrate judge at the first court appearance. Most Houston judges will not set overly strict bond conditions in a first-time DWI. If there was an accident, or a very high breath or blood test score (your blood test score will usually not be known at the first court appearance), then a judge may issue an order for an interlock device, or portable alcohol monitoring device.
If you appear at your first court date without an attorney, that is usually not a problem. The judge will typically ask you if you want to hire your own attorney or apply for a court-appointed attorney. Although nothing bad will happen if you do not have an attorney at your first court appearance, the advantage of hiring a DWI lawyer right away is that your lawyer can advocate on your behalf with respect to any bond conditions that might be set. Additionally, judges in Houston will often waive your appearance at subsequent court dates if you have an attorney at your first court date (if you do not have an attorney, they will usually require you to return to court in a few weeks).
Whatever your bond conditions are, it is important that you understand them clearly and obey them. In Houston, the most common reason a DWI defendant has issues with his bond is by getting caught drinking (most judges will prohibit the consumption of alcohol while you are on bond). If you get caught drinking or violate your bond conditions in some other way, a judge could revoke your bond or make your bond conditions stricter, by requiring you to wear a device on your ankle that continually monitors for the consumption of alcohol.
Next, your DWI attorney will begin the process of obtaining the evidence in your case. To thoroughly defend a DWI in Houston, your attorney will need police reports, accident reports, videos, search warrants, breath or blood results, and documents from the lab relating to the way the alcohol test was administered. To maximize your chances of obtaining an excellent result in a DWI case, your DWI attorney should contest everything, including the validity of the traffic stop or detention, investigation, the way you were advised of your rights, the reliability of any breath or blood test, and the police’s conclusion that you were intoxicated. In Houston, obtaining the evidence in a DWI case takes approximately 6 months, but this can vary depending on what agency was involved in your arrest.
Once the evidence has been received, your DWI attorney should review it with you so that you can make an informed decision as to how to proceed. DWIs in Houston are resolved by either trial, plea, dismissal or a DWI pre-trial intervention (DWI PTI). Of course, the goal of a DWI is to obtain a dismissal of the charges against you. It is impossible to predict what the chances are that your case will be dismissed, but an experienced DWI lawyer can make a dismissal far more likely by thoroughly investigating your case and challenging everything that the police did.
If your case is not dismissed, you will have to choose between a trial, plea or DWI PTI. In Harris County, DWI PTI is a program run by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office that is similar to probation, except that it results in the dismissal of your case. It is an option for first-time DWI defendants with no other criminal history, who were not involved in an accident, and how had a breath or blood test score under .15 (it is possible to still be granted a DWI PTI if you do not meet these requirements, but an appear will usually be required). For many first-time DWI defendants in Houston, the DWI PTI program is a good option if your case is not dismissed, although that does not mean that your DWI attorney should go into your case thinking that is how your case will be resolved (it is a lot better to obtain a dismissal prior to the DWI PTI program).
If you are arrested for a first-time DWI in Houston, hiring an experienced DWI attorney can give you the best possible chance at protecting your record and your driving privileges. Attorney Jose Ceja is based in Houston and has obtained hundreds of dismissals in DWIs in the Houston area. If you are arrested for DWI, call Ceja Law Firm for a free consultation.