So, you’ve been pulled over and arrested for driving while intoxicated. Whether you made an honest mistake or know that you were still capable of being behind the wheel, you want to fight your charges.
After all, the penalties for DWI in Texas could cost you thousands and prevent you from driving for an inconveniently long time.
Texas has specific laws and deadlines attached to the process of fighting a DWI charge. Make sure you are meeting these deadlines and taking the next steps with a criminal defense lawyer to give yourself the best chance at getting a reduced sentence – and possibly even have your charges dropped entirely. Remember – a charge is not a conviction. You have the chance to get through this process without any serious penalties.
Requesting a Hearing
If you are afraid of temporarily losing your license due to DWI charges, it’s time to take action. Texas allows people who have been arrested for DWI a mere 15 days to request a hearing. If you get your request in on time, you can continue to drive without any consequences. Your hearing will not be immediate, so you have time to prepare.
Reaching Out to a Lawyer
At your “first appearance” hearing, the district attorney will ask if you have counsel. If you want to reach out and hire an attorney, it’s best to do so as soon as possible. Your lawyer can represent you at the first hearing, and you may have already figured out what defense strategies you will use in court.
“First Appearance” Hearing
During this hearing, the district attorney will collect relevant evidence from prosecutors, including chemical test results. This information will make its way to your lawyer in about a month.
Basically, the first appearance sets your case up to be settled in court. The actual date of your trial may be determined in an “announcement” hearing.
Your lawyer may have to attend a handful of these hearings before your actual trial. During one of these hearings, you will have the opportunity to make your plea. It’s almost always better to plead “not guilty” – you can always change the plea to “guilty” later, but you cannot alter a “guilty” plea to “not guilty.”
Between the First Appearance and Trial
If you plead “not guilty,” it does not mean that you will automatically go to trial. Between the first appearance and your (possible) trial, your attorney will gather evidence and work with you to build your defense strategy.
You may, for example, argue that you were arrested against your constitutional rights. If you want your case to be heard in front of a jury, you may request that in another hearing. (There are reasons why defendants may or may not want to have their case heard in front of a jury. Talk to a lawyer about these reasons before you head to trial or file the appropriate motions.)
Throughout this process, your attorney will be negotiating with the prosecution and doing everything in his or her power to strengthen your case while weakening theirs. During this time, they may be able to work out a favorable plea deal for you, getting charges and penalties reduced. In some cases, it may even be possible to get your charges dropped or dismissed.
Most trials are heard in front of a jury. (Most DWI charges in Texas are misdemeanors, which means the jury will consist of six people. Felony charges are heard in front of 12 jurors.)
During your trial (if you have one), your attorney and the prosecution will:
- Provide opening statements
- Present evidence
- Call witnesses to the stand
- Provide closing statements
You are not required to testify, and you are not required to call up any witnesses if it won’t help your case. Once the case has been argued on each side, the jury will vote on their verdict and the appropriate penalties if you are found guilty.
If you are found guilty, you will have to serve your sentence after the trial. DWI penalties in Texas range from probation to the loss of your license to heavy fines. Investing in a skilled criminal defense lawyer can help you avoid these penalties.
Found “not guilty?” Great news. It’s important you understand that your legal matters may not be over yet, however.
Even if you completely beat your charges, they will still stay on your record if you do not take appropriate action. Since it is incredibly easy for pretty much anyone to gain access to your criminal record, this can negatively impact your ability to get a good job, find housing, qualify for a loan, and more.
Luckily, in some cases you can work with your lawyer to get your case expunged (also known as the process of “criminal record sealing”). This effectively erases your criminal record to all but a few select individuals and offices (i.e. a landlord won’t be able to see that you had a record, but a judge will if you are charged in the future).
Think you’re ready for your case now? Think again.
While this is the basic shape most Texas DWI cases take, each one is a little bit different, and will depend upon your specific circumstances. Because of this, you need someone on your side who understands all of the nuances of the law and can recommend the best course of action for you.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.