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What happens when an undocumented person is arrested for DWI in Houston?

In the Houston area, there are thousands of undocumented migrants who have come to the United States to work. The vast majority of undocumented migrants are hard-working people who have come to the country looking for a better life, but like all people they can make mistakes that lead to arrests. When an undocumented person is arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Houston, this can be especially stressful due to the possibility of being detained at the jail by immigration authorities. This article discusses what happens when an undocumented person is arrested for DWI in Houston.

At the Harris County jail and other jails in the Houston area, there are immigration officials who monitor the immigration status of people who are arrested. If the immigration official discovers that a person who has been arrested is in the country illegally, then that official could issue an “immigration hold” which would prevent the person from bonding out of jail. When a person is issued an immigration hold, they will remain in jail until after the case is finished and then be transferred to immigration custody. Fortunately, immigration officials usually only place holds on undocumented people who are charged with serious or deportable offenses or have a prior criminal history. 

In Texas, first-time DWIs in Texas are charged as misdemeanors, unless there is an accident resulting in serious injuries or death, a child passenger, or two or more prior convictions. Under immigration law, misdemeanors are generally treated less severely than felonies and that means that the chances of an undocumented person being detained at the jail are relatively low.

What can be done to help an undocumented person who has been arrested?

Despite the fact that there is a relatively low chance of an undocumented person being detained by immigration officials at the jail after a DWI arrest in the Houston area, it is still important to help the person bond out of jail quickly (there is reason to believe that the odds of being detained by immigration increase if a person remains in jail). To check on a person’s bond status, you can contact a bail bondsman or an experienced DWI attorney. 

In Houston, many first-time DWI defendants are issued a free bond and will not need to pay any money to be released from jail. But of course, you should still verify the bond status of an individual. In other counties in the Houston area, it will typically be necessary to pay a bond to help the person get out of jail.

When paying a bond after a DWI arrest, there are typically two options: pay the entire bond amount directly to the county or use a bail bondsman. If you pay the entire bond amount to the county, the money will be returned at the end of the case if the defendant appears in court as ordered (the main purpose of a bond in Texas is to secure a person’s appearance at court). A bondsman will pay the bond on your behalf but charge a non-refundable fee to do so (typically about 10%). For some undocumented people, bail bondsman may charge more than 10% due to the higher risk of the person not appearing in court, but you should be wary of bail bondsman that charge more than 25%.

Is there a risk that immigration could arrest an undocumented person at a court date for a DWI?

Fortunately, there is very little risk that an undocumented person could be arrested at a court date for a DWI. After an undocumented person is released from jail, they will be issued a court date to appear in court on the DWI charge. It is very important to appear at this first court date or an arrest warrant will likely be issued. Although it is understandable that appearing in court could lead to high levels of anxiety, you do not have to worry about being detained by an immigration official in court. Immigration officials are virtually never present in court in the Houston area and the court will have no reason to put you in jail unless you violate your bond conditions, or you are later sentenced to jail (which is unlikely for most first-time DWIs). 

In the Houston area, a DWI case takes many months to resolve and nothing will be decided at your first court date. You will not have to say or do anything other than acknowledge the charge and your bond conditions (the rules that you must follow while the case is pending). 

What bond conditions can an undocumented person expect after being arrested for DWI?

For a first-time DWI, bond conditions typically include no driving without a driver’s license, no new law violations and no alcohol. If there was an accident or a high breath or blood test, then the court could order a person to obtain an alcohol monitoring device. An experienced DWI attorney can help to advocate on behalf of an undocumented person and prevent overly restrictive bond conditions from being issued. 

Can an undocumented person drive while on bond for a DWI in Texas?

A person may never legally drive without a valid Texas driver’s license. When an undocumented person has been arrested for DWI, one condition will typically include that the person cannot drive without a valid Texas driver’s license. This means that if an undocumented person drives while on bond for a DWI, they are in violation of Texas law for driving without a license, and in violation of the court’s bond conditions. If the court discovers that a person has violated their bond conditions, the court could revoke the person’s bond and put them back in jail. For this reason, it is extremely important that all bond conditions in a DWI case are strictly obeyed. 

The goal of a DWI is always to avoid jail time and to protect a person’s record. For an undocumented person, these goals are even more important as the person’s future in the country may be at stake. Attorney Jose Ceja is a former prosecutor with extensive experience in all aspects of the defense of DWIs. Mr. Ceja and his staff are all fluent in Spanish and have earned a reputation as one of the best DWI defense firms in the Houston area. Call Ceja Law Firm today for a free consultation