What Next?: A Walk-Through of the Court Proceedings That Follow a DWI in Texas
If you've been arrested for a DWI in Texas and you don't know where to go from here, you're not alone. Texas sees more than 87,000 DWI arrests a year.
These charges are very serious and often lead to criminal records and major penalties that will affect you for the rest of your life.
Luckily, that doesn't have to be the case. With the right knowledge and taking the right steps, you can move on from a DWI charge.
Let's talk about what happens after a DWI charge and what you can do.
What to Do After a DWI in Texas
If you have already been through the arrest and booking process, that's only the beginning of the DWI process. Let's walk through the legal process after DWI charges in Texas once a bond has been posted.
After your release from jail, you will get a letter in the mail for your court date, unless it was provided for you upon your release. Arraignments are where you state your plea: guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
If you plead guilty or no contest, you will be sentenced by the judge immediately. This will affect future job applications and be a part of your criminal record.
If you plead not guilty, there will be more of a legal battle ahead of you. Don't let that intimidate you. However, you will need a defense attorney with the right experience to help you get through the next steps if you haven't consulted with one already.
Depending on your plea and the county court, your next court date and your trial date will be set.
The prosecution and your attorney will be trying to reach a deal behind the scenes. You do not have any obligation to take a plea deal.
The idea of lesser charges may seem appealing, but you will still have a criminal record if you take it. If this is your first offense, and you have experienced representation, then it is best to plea not guilty.
This is the stage that kills most cases. In fact, only around 2% of DWI cases go to trial, except in limited circumstances that bring that figure above 10%.
These hearings only come with felony charges. A DWI without any other charges likely won't have a preliminary hearing. However, any damage to property charges, manslaughter, assault, or more serious charges will involve a preliminary hearing.
This hearing is for the judge to determine whether or not there is sufficient enough evidence for a jury trial. If not, the judge will dismiss the case.
Pre-trial motions are a powerful tool your attorney uses to exclude evidence from a trial. A motion to suppress is important to challenge the way that evidence is obtained or used.
Hearings will be held for these motions, and your attorney will argue before a judge, who will determine whether or not the evidence in question should be excluded.
The trial is often the scariest part, but it is a necessary evil in many cases. This is why you hired a lawyer, so remember to stay calm and prepared with a knowledge of the process. Don't be afraid to ask your attorney questions before the trial begins.
During this period, your lawyer and the prosecution will question potential jurors in order to expose any biases. For misdemeanor cases, 6 jurors will be appointed. For felony cases, this number is increased to 12.
The prosecution and your lawyer will now get to deliver their opening statements. Your attorney will now have the opportunity to shed a human light on your case and set the stage for a proper defense.
This is where it all happens. There is plenty you will need to discuss with your attorney prior to this stage. Make sure that you are best prepared with the right witnesses and that you know what to say if you are forced to testify.
During the trial, the prosecution must prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
The reason you have an attorney is to challenge the evidence in order to cast reasonable doubt that you committed the crime. In a DWI case, there is a lot of room to cast doubt when procedures are not followed strictly, which is often the case.
Having a Board-certified DWI attorney and a Board-certified criminal defense attorney strengthens your case. Your attorney will need to bring in witnesses, and question all evidence in a way that is calculated and measured to provide you the best defense.
During this step, the prosecution and defense wrap up their arguments and make their final cases to the jury. This is a crucial step considering these are the last arguments the jury will hear in the trial.
Jury Instructions and Deliberation
During this time the jury is instructed and left to deliberate the case. The jury must be unanimous for a “not guilty” or “guilty” outcome.
If there is one holdout, then it could be nullified or deemed a mistrial by the judge. If your defense attorney did their job, then some sympathy and doubt will work in your favor during this critical portion of the trial.
Once the jury has reached a verdict, you will be brought back to the courtroom and the verdict will be read to the court. Depending on the verdict, you will either be released without any other conditions or will have a sentencing hearing set.
Penalties will vary widely based on the offense and other factors during the sentencing portion. Make sure you are aware of all possible penalties.
What Penalties Are Possible?
If you plead guilty, or if you have made it all the way through the trial process, then there is only one step left: sentencing.
Again, a guilty plea is likely to result in more lenient sentencing, but a fair trial with the proper representation may result in no sentencing at all.
However, the penalties for a DWI in Texas are clear. It all depends on your level of intoxication and whether or not this was your first offense.
No matter the offense, knowing how to minimize the penalties is the key to ensuring this has the lowest impact on your future.
For DWI charges to be placed, you must have a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher at the time of the arrest. This is usually classified as a Class B misdemeanor for a 1st offense in Texas.
The results of this type of offense will result in fines ranging between $2,000 to $4,000 plus administrative fees. A conviction may also result in a sentence of 72 hours to 6 months in jail.
However, if the BAC is above 0.15% at the time of arrest, this can be classified as a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense. This can raise jail time up to 1 year, as well as increase probation time or community service hours related to these charges.
Upon conviction, the court will suspend your license for 90 days to 12 months with a license surcharge of $1,000 to $2,000 for up to 3 years.
A 2nd offense is no joke, so it is critical to have representation in these cases. A second offense tells the judge that you have a habit of driving while intoxicated.
You will be facing fines of up to $4,500 and mandatory jail time. This jail time ranges between 30 days and 1 year. You will also face a license suspension ranging from 180 days to 2 years, with an annual license surcharge of $1,500 to $2,000.
There is also no time limit after your first offense to classify the charges as a second offense.
The 3rd offense will land you a fine of up to $10,000 and a jail sentence of 2 to 10 years. There will also be a license suspension of up to two years, and an annual license surcharge of up to $2,000 assessed every year for 3 years.
What to Do Next?
The penalties for a DWI in Texas are too big to take any risks. If you haven't already, you need to get the proper legal representation.
A public defender is likely to pressure you into taking a plea deal, whereas an experienced DWI lawyer will see you through to a proper defense and hopefully, dismissed charges.
The Texas DWI lawyers offer the best representation for your needs. Get a free case evaluation and find out if you can benefit from their services!