Under Texas law, prosecutors are empowered to defer adjudication of many crimes for first-time offenders. Deferred adjudication allows a defendant to plead guilty to a crime, but avoid a conviction on their criminal record if they meet certain conditions. Since 1984, that option has been off the table for anyone convicted of a DWI. Now, however, the law has changed again.
Since September 1, 2019, Texas prosecutors may once again offer deferred adjudication for intoxication offenses like driving while intoxicated and boating while intoxicated. Many prosecutors have pushed for a change in the law, arguing its inflexibility has made it difficult to settle DWI cases out of court. Now, the state legislature has listened, passing the change that was ultimately signed by the governor.
This effort to change the law was the fifth attempt since 1984. This effort succeeded where others failed in part because of the growing support among prosecutors for this change. Court officials have also come out in favor of the change, given that the vast majority of criminal trials are in DWI or alcohol-related cases.
While this change in the law offers defendants in a Harris County DWI case another option, that doesn't mean accepting deferred adjudication in a DWI case is a good idea.
Pitfalls in Deferred Adjudication
Initially, deferred adjudication may seem like a blessing. For a first-time DWI offender, the chance to avoid a criminal conviction on the record could seem like an unexpected lifeline in an otherwise bleak situation. However, there are some important downsides to deferred adjudication, and these are discussed in brief below.
Waiving your Right to a Trial or Appeal
If you agree to defer adjudication, you give up your right to a trial or an appeal. In many DWI cases, your best chance for a positive outcome is through a trial. What's more, you lose any of the advantages you might have held at trial if the prosecutor eventually moves to adjudicate your guilt. If one thing goes wrong during your adjudication period, you could find yourself in a worse position than before. You also lose your chance to appeal, which is normally your final line of defense against an unfair verdict.
Ultimately, deferred adjudication is a form of probation. Like any type of probation, you will be on the hook for its cost. The court costs associated with your case could be in the thousands of dollars. In some cases, that cost could exceed the expense of hiring a defense attorney to handle your DWI case.
You can also expect tougher penalties if the prosecutor moves to adjudicate your guilt. When you plead guilty to a crime under normal circumstances, you typically do so with an agreed sentencing recommendation with the prosecutor. In these cases, your guilt is at the discretion of the court. In other words, you could end up facing the maximum allowable sentence.
Discuss Deferred Adjudication with an Experienced Houston DWI Defense Lawyer
There are some rewards but many risks associated with deferred adjudication. Before you make a decision, talk to an experienced Houston DWI defense lawyer. Schedule your free consultation with the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today.