Harris County courthouse

What to know about a first court date after a DWI arrest in Houston in 2024

Every week in Houston, there are dozens of arrests for driving while intoxicated (DWI). Most DWI arrests are for first-time misdemeanor DWI, although there are also many arrests for more serious felony DWI charges. In Harris County, after a DWI charge, you can expect to have a court date within a week or so of being released from jail. But what can you expect at your first court date after a DWI arrest in Houston? What information should you know to minimize any problems in court? 

How do I know what court my Houston DWI is assigned to?

In Houston, DWIs are all assigned to either one of either 16 misdemeanor or 26 felony courts at the Criminal Justice Center located at 1201 Franklin St.  First and second DWIs will be assigned to misdemeanor courts, while third DWIs or DWIs with certain aggravating factors (like a child passenger, or an accident involving death or serious injury), will be assigned to a felony court. 

In Harris County, when you bond out of jail, you will be provided paperwork which should include information on the court your case is assigned to and the day and time you are supposed to appear. If you do not have this information, it is possible to look up your case information at the Harris County District Clerk’s website, or call a criminal defense lawyer or bondsman. 

It is critical that you do not miss court after a DWI arrest. If you do not appear, a warrant will likely issue for your arrest. It is also important that you do not arrive late for court. The Criminal Justice Center is located in downtown Houston, and courts in Houston start in the morning. That means that you should allow plenty of time for traffic and parking, as well as sufficient time to get through security (very frequently, there is a line of people outside of the courthouse in the mornings). In order to avoid being late, you should plan to be in line to go through security at least an hour before your court date is scheduled. 

How should I dress for a court appearance after a DWI arrest?

It is always a good idea to be mindful of your dress and demeanor when you go to court on a DWI charge. Clothing for men and women should be business-appropriate. In other words, you should dress conservatively in clothes you might wear to go to a job interview or to church. You should avoid flashy colors or clothing that looks too casual. The idea is to convey that you are taking the charge seriously and that you do not belong in the courthouse. 

What will actually happen at my first court date on a DWI charge?

At your first court date after a DWI arrest in Houston, the judge will review your bond conditions and inquire as to whether you want to hire your own lawyer or want to apply for a court-appointed lawyer. You should also assume that you could get tested for drugs and alcohol at your first court appearance (and all future court appearances). 

Bond conditions are the rules that you must follow while the case is pending and will vary based on your judge, the charge you are facing, and your criminal history. At a minimum, in a DWI case, most judges will order you to not consume alcohol while the case is pending and to commit no new law violations. If you are charged with a felony DWI, have a prior DWI, or gave a very high breath or blood sample, the judge may also order you to obtain an alcohol monitoring device (either a portable device or a device that goes in your car). 

It is critical that you understand and obey your bond conditions after a DWI arrest. If it is alleged that you violated your bond conditions, your bond could be revoked, and you could be put back into jail. In addition to resulting in the loss of your freedom, getting your bond revoked could also make it more difficult to obtain a favorable result in your DWI case, as the judge and prosecutor may believe that you cannot follow the rules. In DWI cases, the most common reason that defendants have their bond revoked is by having positive alcohol tests.

Although you may have to go in front of the judge to acknowledge your bond conditions, you will not be asked to give a statement regarding the alleged DWI or anything else. You should not volunteer any information and polite and direct answers to any questions you are asked. You should never apologize for what allegedly happened or discuss the facts of the case in any way. 

How soon do I need to hire a lawyer after a DWI arrest?

After you bond out of jail on a DWI charge in Houston, you should not rush to hire a lawyer. It is always a good idea to take your time and research prospective attorneys, as there is a lot to consider when hiring a DWI attorney

While you should resist any pressure from attorneys to hire right away, there are two things to keep in mind. The first is that you only have 15 days to request a hearing to fight a potential suspension of your driver’s license as a result of an Administrative License Revocation (ALR), which is likely pending. The other advantage of hiring a lawyer before your first court date is that it can be beneficial to have a lawyer present to advocate on your behalf with respect to bond conditions that the court may want to impose. 

Will anything happen to an undocumented immigrant at a court appearance on a DWI charge?

When a person is not a United States citizen or is undocumented, a DWI can be even more stressful as it could lead to immigration consequences. Fortunately, a person who is not a United States citizen or is undocumented does not have to be afraid of immigration officials detaining him in the courtroom on a DWI charge in Houston. In Harris County, judges and court staff do not inquire as to a person’s legal status and there are no immigration officials in the courtroom. At Ceja Law Firm, we have extensive experience in successfully guiding immigrant clients through the process of a DWI in Houston. 

DWIs in Houston can be slow processes and typically take 6 months or longer. The goal of a DWI charge should always be to protect your freedom, your record, and your driving privileges. One way to maximize your chances of a good result is by knowing what to expect and having excellent legal representation. Mr. Ceja is a former prosecutor who has extensive training in all fields relating to the defense of DWIs. If you are arrested for DWI anywhere in the Houston area, call Ceja Law Firm today.