If you have been arrested and charged with Driving While Intoxicated in the Greater Houston Area, you will likely be very anxious about your case. A very large percentage of people charged with a first time DWI have never been arrested before and are unfamiliar with the criminal justice system. Understandably, not knowing what to expect will increase the anxiety of anyone charged with a criminal case. The below information was written to give a brief overview of how DWIs work in Texas and addresses many frequently asked questions.
What should I do once I am released from jail for a first-time DWI?
After being charged with DWI and getting released from jail, you should take a deep breath. You may be receiving text messages and calls from questionable attorneys pressuring you to hire them. Attorneys are never permitted to make unsolicited calls to a person charged with a criminal offense.
Do not fall prey to pressure tactics from unethical attorneys. The only deadline you are likely under is a fifteen-day deadline to request a driver’s license hearing (known as an Administrative License Revocation case). Get some rest and take your time deciding what to do next. Do not panic. The bottom line is that there are many ways to obtain a dismissal in a DWI case, but even if your case is not dismissed, it is unlikely that a conviction would irreparably damage your personal or professional life.
What is an Administrative License Revocation (ALR) case?
If you arrested for DWI in Texas, a police officer will ask you to give a sample of your breath or blood. If you agree to give a sample, and that sample is 0.08 (the legal limit) or higher that will trigger a potential 90-day suspension of your driver’s license. If you refuse to give a sample, then you will face a potential 180-day suspension of your driver’s license. This suspension is not automatic and unless your license was already suspended, your license will remain unless it is suspended at the hearing (which will typically take place in 2-3 months) as long as you make a request to fight the suspension within 15 days. Typically, the hearing will take place in two or three months after you make the request.
You should note that if you consented to blood, then it will not be known at the time of your arrest whether you were above a .08. In those cases, if your sample exceeds the limit, the Department of Public Safety will send you a letter stating that the sample was above the legal limit and that you must make a request within 20 days. If you fall into this category (arrested for DWI and consented to blood), it is especially important to verify that DPS has your current address, so you do not miss this deadline.
An experienced DWI lawyer will handle your ALR hearing and make the request for you. However, if you are getting close to the 15-day deadline, you should make the request yourself by calling 1-800-394-9913 or going to the Texas website. For more information, visit our Administrative License Revocation page.
How should I choose an attorney?
The right attorney can make all the difference in your DWI case. Unfortunately, choosing an attorney can be an overwhelming experience. But keeping a few things in mind should help you make the right choice. You should start your search by looking for attorneys who focus on criminal law. Many attorneys handle all types of cases – civil, criminal, divorce – and do not have experience in criminal law generally and DWI cases specifically. We believe that the best attorneys are those that are devoted to the practice of criminal defense. Criminal law is complex, and you need an attorney who understands the law and is familiar with the court system. It is important to hire an attorney who has actually gone to trial and won DWI trials. The truth is that many attorneys almost never go to trial and many prosecutors know that an attorney who doesn’t go to trial has no leverage. When considering prospective lawyers to handle your DWI case, it is important to know if you are dealing with a trial attorney or a plea lawyer.
It is also important to remember that even though most DWIs are filed as misdemeanors, DWIs can be some of the most technically complex cases that are prosecuted in the State of Texas. At a minimum, an effective DWI attorney should have a thorough understanding of traffic law, the law of search and seizures (which controls traffic stops and police interrogations), police balance tests, the science of breath and blood testing, the Rules of Evidence, the Texas Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure, plus applicable case law, which is constantly changing.
Last but not least, it is important to find an attorney who you feel comfortable with and who you feel you can communicate well with. Your questions should be answered in a patient manner by an honest attorney. Throughout the process, it is critical that your attorney allows you to make informed decisions about how to handle your case, and in order for this to happen, your DWI lawyer must be a good communicator.
What can I expect on my first court appearance in a DWI case?
The first time that you go to court in a DWI case, the judge will likely set bond conditions. Bond conditions can include an interlock (if there was a high breath or blood test), random urine analysis, travel restrictions, and more. Be sure to alert your attorney if any conditions present a major problem for you, so he or she can address it on the day of court. You will typically not be asked to say or do anything other than acknowledging your bond conditions. It is a good idea to allow extra time to find parking, get through security and up elevators. It is also a good idea to dress as if you are going to a job interview. You should always assume that you could be tested for drugs or alcohol when you go to court.
How long will my case last?
Your case will typically last months and will almost never be resolved on your first court date. To properly defend a DWI, an attorney needs all of the evidence. This includes offense reports, videos, the results of any breath or blood test, and the underlying paperwork from the laboratory showing whether the test was accurate. In a blood test case, for example, an experienced DWI lawyer will need documentation to challenge how the blood was drawn, how it was handled, how it was stored, how it was tested, and how the machines that did the analysis were performing. In the Greater Houston area, obtaining all of the evidence usually takes 3-4 months at a minimum, or a year or more if the case goes to trial. Once a DWI attorney gathers the evidence, he or she should review it with you in detail and discuss the best strategies to defend the case. You should be wary of a DWI attorney that wants to resolve your case without obtaining all of the evidence, and without reviewing it thoroughly with you.
What are the potential outcomes?
Typically, DWI cases will end in trial, a plea agreement, or a dismissal. How your case will end will depend on what the evidence looks like, and what issues your attorney is able to exploit to help you obtain a good result. For first-time DWIs, some defendants are eligible for pre-trial diversion programs, which are a way to get the case dismissed. More information on the pre-trial diversion program can be found here.
Will my case go to trial?
It is very difficult to know if the trial will be the best option for your DWI until all of the evidence has been reviewed by your attorney. As noted, any criminal case will end in one of three ways – dismissal, plea, or trial. A dismissal is, of course, the preferred result. If your case is not dismissed, you will have to choose between a plea agreement (or possibly pre-trial intervention), or a trial.
Very often, first-time DWIs go to trial because a defendant may not have anything to lose by going to trial, and may be getting a free shot at an acquittal. For example, if you are charged with a first-time DWI and have no other criminal history, but the prosecutor won’t dismiss your case, and is offering you probation, it may be that you do not risk anything by going to trial. Almost every judge in Texas would assess probation for a defendant convicted of a first-time DWI. If you find yourself in this position, a trial may be the most logical choice, even if the facts are not strong in your favor.
For a first-time DWI, generally, the downsides of going to trial are the additional investment of time and money and the uncertainty of not knowing the exact sentence in the event of a guilty verdict. An experienced DWI lawyer should thoroughly help you weigh the pros and cons of going to trial once all of the evidence has been received. An experienced DWI attorney should be familiar with a judge’s sentencing as well.
Will my license be suspended for a first-time DWI?
Most defendants charged with a first-time DWI do not have their driver’s license suspended. However, there are two ways that your license can be suspended – as a result of an Administrative License Revocation case (discussed above), or as a part of the criminal case.
For a first-time DWI offender, your license can be suspended as a part of the criminal case if you are convicted, and you are not placed on probation. As long as you are placed on probation and you complete a DWI education course, your license will not be suspended.
Can I obtain an Occupational Driver’s License?
Yes. Even if your license is suspended from an ALR suspension, or a conviction, you will be eligible to obtain an Occupational Driver’s License, provided that your license does not have any other issues and you file a petition. Many courts require proof of SR-22 insurance (a special form of pre-paid insurance) and an interlock before granting an occupational driver’s license. Your attorney should find out what the court’s requirements are before submitting a petition for an occupational driver’s license.
What can I do to help my attorney obtain the best possible result?
It is important to not complicate your DWI by getting your bond revoked. Do not be late to court and avoid alcohol or any illegal substances. Courts in Houston and surrounding counties routinely require random urine analysis and you should assume you will be getting tested when you go to court. You should regularly check your mail and let your attorney know if you receive any correspondence from DPS or any other agency relating to your DWI.
Will it help if I attend counseling or Alcoholics Anonymous?
In general, we advise our clients to seek any counseling or treatment that they feel would benefit them. But it is usually not necessary to proactively seek counseling or treatment for the purpose of helping the DWI case. There are exceptions, and in some situations, a judge or prosecutor might look favorably on a defendant seeking treatment on his own, but it is always advisable to discuss seeking treatment with your attorney.
How much will a first-time DWI cost me?
The total cost of a DWI can vary greatly. In the Greater Houston area, lawyers charge between $1000 and $15000 for legal fees for a first-time DWI, which might not include a trial. Like many things, you pay for what you get with a DWI attorney. Depending on your defense strategy and the facts of your case, you could also end up spending more on breath or blood experts, or a toxicologist. Experts can cost as much as $10,000 if you go to trial and you hire them to testify on your behalf.
Other than the costs of an attorney and an expert, you could end up paying fines if you are convicted (up to $2000 for a Class “B” misdemeanor and up to $4000 for a Class “A” misdemeanor). Additionally, if you are convicted, you could be facing a DWI “superfine” of $3000 for a first-time DWI.
How can I keep a first-time DWI off of my record?
If your DWI is dismissed, or if you go to trial and win, then you will be eligible for an expunction. An expunction is truly the best result in any criminal case, as it results in the destruction of the records of the offense, as if the incident and arrest had never taken place. If you win a trial, you are eligible to have your records expunged immediately. If your case is dismissed by the prosecutor, then you typically have to wait until two years from the date of the offense (which is the statute of limitations), before you can apply for an expunction. Additionally, if your case is dismissed because you completed a pre-trial diversion, the contract you signed might contain a waiting period. For example, in Harris County, defendants who complete the DWI PTI program have to wait for two years after their case is dismissed before applying for an expunction (which will typically be considerably past the expiration of the statute of limitations).
DWI cases are extremely complex and this article presents only a brief overview of many of the issues facing a person charged with a first-time DWI in Texas. If you are charged with an intoxication-related offense anywhere in the Greater Houston area, attorney Jose Ceja would be available to offer a free consultation to discuss your case in detail. Jose Ceja is a former prosecutor who has defended thousands of DWIs in Harris, Montgomery, Chambers, Brazoria, Fort Bend, and Galveston Counties.