Most discussions revolving around the penalties for a first-offense driving while intoxicated conviction center around the potential maximum penalty you might face. In reality, most sentences handed down by the court fall far short of the maximum allowable sentence. Judges are given leeway in the sentences they hand down, so long as they fall within the minimum and maximum jail terms required by statute.
For a first-offense DWI in Harris County, the maximum penalty is 180 days in county jail, or in some cases up to one year in the Harris County Jail. The judge has the authority to sentence you to no more than the time you spent while in jail if they choose. Additionally, the court can sentence you to a jail sentence but place you on probation. This allows you to avoid serving that jail sentence as long as you avoid any additional arrests and meet other conditions.
The leeway these judges hold makes facing the maximum sentence allowed a possibility, however rarely it might occur. Because it is a possibility, it is best to never assume the court will be lenient in your case. This is especially true if you decide to plead guilty at your arraignment.
Considerations at a Texas DWI Sentencing
There are no formal guidelines on how a judge should reach a sentence. While every judge approaches sentencing differently, there are a few factors that could lead to a steeper sentence than normal. The court will consider the facts of the specific case in front of them. For example, if a DWI charge stems from the same incident that involved a police chase or resisting arrest allegation, the judge could sentence you heavily on all the charges you face.
Another factor that could cause a judge to hand down the maximum sentence in a first-offense DWI case is your prior criminal history. If you have an extensive history of arrests and convictions, you could expect to face a steeper penalty than a first-time offender. A person that has been previously convicted of a serious or infamous crime might discover that some members of the public could pressure the court to hand down the heaviest sentence available.
Pleading Guilty in Houston at a DWI Arraignment
One of the ways you could risk facing the maximum penalty for a first-offense DWI is by pleading guilty at arraignment. Your arraignment is the first formal hearing you in your criminal case following an arrest. It is your opportunity to formally plead guilty or not guilty.
While pleading guilty is an option under the law, it is a risky move that has little upside. Upon pleading guilty, you give up your ability to demand a trial or appeal your conviction. You are bound by the sentence handed down after your plea, and you will miss out on the chance to discuss your case with a Board Certified expert in DWI defense.
When you plead guilty at an arraignment for your DWI in Houston, the judge is free to sentence you any way they like. They will not receive a recommendation as part of a plea bargain, and they might not have any of the details of the case that could work in your favor.
While it is possible to face the maximum sentence for a first-time DWI offender, it is unlikely in most cases. That said, the possibility alone should be enough to consider speaking with legal counsel before you enter a plea.