Anyone stopped and arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Texas faces strict state laws with severe penalties. A driver can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony DWI in Texas when he or she operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol in a public place to the point where they lost the normal use of their mental or physical faculties. The severity of the charge depends on the number of prior DWI cases.
First and second-time DWIs in Texas are prosecuted as misdemeanors. Prosecutors file felony charges if the DWI is a third or greater offense, or in a few other specific circumstances. An arrest for DWI with a minor passenger (i.e., under age 15) in the vehicle will result in a felony DWI with a child passenger charge. Also, if someone is injured in an accident caused as a result of DWI, the charge will be a 3rd degree felony DWI called Intoxication Assault. 2nd Degree felony charges of Intoxication Manslaughter are filed when someone dies as a result of an accident with an intoxicated driver.
Felony DWI charges carry substantial penalties, which can include a fine of up to $10,000 and years of time in prison under Texas law, not to mention other negative consequences like damage to your reputation. If you are arrested and charged with a felony DWI, contacting an experienced attorney is key to helping you understand how your specific DWI case will proceed and what you can do to reach the best possible outcome for your future. Your attorney can help you navigate the legal system, first by helping you understand the stages of your DWI case. Most felony DWIs in Texas proceed according to the stages briefly described below.
The first stage of the DWI process begins with the arrest. A law enforcement officer must have reasonable suspicion of a law violation to detain a suspect and proceed with an investigation, as well as probable cause to make a legal arrest. Law enforcement must administer all field sobriety and chemical tests correctly to the driver. Your attorney will analyze and assess the details of your case to find out if the arresting officer followed proper procedure at the time of your arrest.
Booking is the second stage of the process. The driver is typically processed at the county jail’s central booking facility, beginning the booking intake process by providing personal information, fingerprints and photo for the record. Then the driver is placed into a holding cell until taken before a magistrate to determine whether to grant a PR bond (personal recognizance) or set a bond amount. The magistrate judge can also order bond conditions such as:
- Requiring an ignition interlock device be installed in the driver’s vehicle
- Requiring an ankle monitor that tests for alcohol
- No using or possessing drugs or alcohol
- No driving at all
A bail bond can be posted in some DWI cases during the next stage of DWI case proceedings. Felony DWIs typically have higher bail requirements than misdemeanors, but it is still possible to be released on a bond in most cases. Once the bond is posted, either through a bail bondsman or by paying with cash (keep all your paperwork!), a conditional release from police custody is secured, with a requirement for an appearance in court on a future date to answer for the DWI charges as a defendant.
The arraignment is the next stage. It is the first court setting, during which the defendant is informed of the charges against him or her, as well as the rights the defendant has moving forward in the process. The judge can also hear what facts the government has to prove their case and determine whether there is probable cause to move forward. It is not uncommon for an attorney to review a case and determine that it is not necessary to go through these formalities. At this point, the case will be reset and the lawyers begin the pre-trial discovery stage.
In the pre-trial discovery stage, the defense attorney requests copies of evidence the government may try to use at trial, as well as documents, recordings, lab records, and other materials to potentially use in defense of the case. This part of the process can take many months depending on the court, law enforcement agency, laboratory, and prosecutors involved with the case. The attorney should review the evidence with the client to assist them in making a decision about how to proceed with the next steps.
Administrative License Revocation Hearing
A collateral issue in DWI cases is the Texas Department of Transportation (“DPS”) attempting to suspend the driver’s license of the accused person. This process takes place at the State Office of Administrative Hearings and an administrative law judge decides whether or not to give DPS the authority to suspend from anywhere between 90 days up to 2 years, depending on the situation. This is a vital stage because it sometimes gives the lawyer the opportunity to cross examine the officer(s) involved in the case.
Plea bargaining is a part of the process where the attorney for the defendant and the prosecution meet to attempt a resolution of the case without having to go to trial. The goal of the attorney for the defense is to negotiate a reduction or dismissal of charges, often achievable especially if there are improper procedures, no prior convictions of the defendant, mitigating evidence, etc. Some DWI cases are resolved during this stage, but if not, the case gets set for trial.
Preliminary Hearings and Pre-trial Motions
A preliminary hearing for a felony DWI case occurs when the judge assigned to the case makes decisions about what evidence may or may not be admissible if the case does go to trial. Pre-trial motions are challenges an attorney makes to fight for some evidence to be excluded from the upcoming trial. Hearings on the motions are scheduled so an attorney can examine witnesses and present arguments before a judge. If the judge rules to exclude evidence, it could lead to a dismissal of the case.
If a plea of Not Guilty is entered (assuming no plea bargain is reached) a felony DWI case proceeds to trial. This stage includes jury selection, opening statements, examination of witnesses, arguments from the prosecution and defense, jury deliberation, and the rendering of a verdict. If the defendant is found guilty, the case moves into the punishment phase of trial.
If the jury returns a verdict which results in a conviction, the case moves into the punishment or sentencing stage. The punishments for a felony DWI conviction in Texas depend on the specific circumstances of a case but can include from 2-10 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, a driver’s license suspension up to two years, and other potential conditions if placed on probation.
If you are convicted of a felony DWI in Texas, it will be on your record for life. The best way to proceed is to consult with a reputable and competent criminal defense attorney to help you fight DWI charges against you. An experienced and skilled DWI defense attorney can help you understand the way your case will proceed. If you need a committed attorney to advocate for you, contact the Law Office of Collin Evans. Collin Evans is an honest attorney who can answer your questions and provide valuable legal counsel. For a free consultation, contact Houston DWI attorney, Collin Evans, online or by phone at 713-225-0650 to discuss the details of your case or any other legal issue you might be facing.