At Fulgham Law Firm P.C., our Fort Worth DWI lawyers understand the sense of dread that many people experience when they see flashing red lights in the rearview mirror when driving home after a night of drinking at a local bar, restaurant, club or sporting event. The DWI process has three basic components the law enforcement investigation, administrative driver’s license hearing and the criminal court proceedings. When motorists understand the process, this can make navigating the complex procedures and legal proceedings involved in a Fort Worth DWI criminal case less daunting.
The Law Enforcement Process in Fort Worth DWI Cases
When a law enforcement officer pulls you over and initiates a DWI investigation, it will typically be related to a traffic violation or erratic driving that while not illegal alerts the officer that you might be intoxicated. During the stop, the officer may ask you questions in an effort to get you to admit that you have been drinking or that you are coming from a business that serves alcohol like a bar. While you are required to provide the officer with your license, registration and proof of insurance, you do not need to answer tangential questions about your evening activities.
If you have been drinking, using narcotics or experiencing effects of prescription drugs, admissions that suggest you might be driving impaired will only provide evidence the officer can use as part of his probable cause for an arrest. The officer will be paying as much attention to physical signs of intoxication as any answers provided. The officer is looking for what law enforcement officers consider signs of intoxication which may include red watery eyes, slurred speech, impaired coordination, unsteady gait and breath with the odor of alcohol. While there are many explanations for these physical symptoms, such as illness, the officer may use these observations and any damaging answers that indicate you have been drinking to initiate a DWI investigation.
The DWI investigation essentially is comprised of two components: (1) roadside portable breath testing (PBT); and (2) field sobriety tests. Although you are required to submit to a formal breath test or blood test of your BAC level if you are arrested unless you wish to be subject to an administrative suspension of your driver license, you are under no obligation to submit to a PBT. Further, the purpose of the test like the questions the officer asks during the stop are just a tool to develop evidence of probable cause so there is nothing to be gained by submitting to this roadside breath test. The officer typically will also ask you to perform field sobriety tests (FSTs), but these also are just another way to gather evidence to justify arresting you for DWI. While the officer is likely to arrest you if you refuse to perform a PBT or FSTs, this may deprive the prosecution of potentially valuable evidence.
If you are arrested, the officer typically will transport you to a hospital for a blood test or the police station/jail for a breath test. This formal chemical test of your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) after arrest cannot be declined without consequences that include a mandatory driver’s license suspension even if formal DWI charges are never filed against you. Prior to asking you to submit to either a breath or blood test, the officer will read you a statutory advisory of the consequences of a refusal to submit to BAC testing and the consequences of a test result of .08 percent or above, which also will result in a driver’s license suspension but of a shorter duration than a refusal.
The Administrative Hearing to Challenge Driver’s License Suspension
There are really two cases when you are arrested for DWI in Texas: (1) an administrative hearing regarding suspension of your driver’s license; and (2) the criminal case. If you refuse a formal BAC test or fail the test, the officer will take your license and issue a “Notice of Suspension.” It is important to seek legal advice promptly because you only have fifteen days to submit a request for an administrative hearing to contest suspension of your driving privileges. If you do not request a hearing in a timely manner, you will lose your opportunity to contest the suspension of your driver’s license.
The Texas DPS must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that you were driving while impaired at the administrative hearing which can be an intimidating process. An experienced Fort Worth DWI Attorney can present witnesses, cross-examine the officer and present other evidence. Even if you do not think you will prevail at the administrative hearing, it is advisable to submit your request for a hearing because your attorney may be able to protect your driving privileges, and the hearing can be used to obtain information that can be used in your subsequent criminal case.
The Criminal DWI Court Process
The law enforcement officer for the arresting agency will submit a police report to the office of the prosecutor who will make a decision about whether to formally file charges for DWI. The formal court process in a Fort Worth DWI case will begin with the “Arraignment.” At the arraignment setting, the accused must enter some form of plea, but as a practical matter in most courts, the defendant will not need to formally plead before the judge rather the judge will simply indicate a not guilty plea. The judge also may impose some restrictions on the defendant’s release or bond.
There will be typically be several more hearings that an experienced DWI defense attorney will utilize to review and analyze the evidence against the defendant and to negotiate terms of a potential plea agreement with the prosecutor. A thorough review of the police report, BAC testing results and other evidence will allow your Fort Worth DWI attorney to develop defense strategies and determine whether the case should proceed to trial. We will explain the evidence against you and the prospects for success at trial.
If the case proceeds to trial, the case could last anywhere from a day to a week depending on whether scientific evidence will be needed because breath or blood testing of BAC was conducted. If you are found not guilty, you can seek to have your record expunged but the case will proceed to the penalty phase if you are convicted. The formal rules of evidence and criminal procedural rules will be observed so you need an experienced Fort Worth DWI attorney. If you have questions about the DWI process in Fort Worth, we invite you to contact the Fulgham Law Firm P.C. at 817-886-3078 for a free consultation with a Fort Worth DWI lawyer.