An arrest for DWI in Houston can be traumatic and confusing, especially if this is your first brush with the law. The consequences are severe; you face not only legal jeopardy but a social stigma that can haunt you personally and professionally forever. The process for resolving a DWI can be long. Starting with your arrest, the process can carry on for months before it is successfully resolved. An attorney experienced and board certified in DWI defense can help you successfully navigate the process and break it down step by step.
The DWI Process in Harris County, TX
The process of your DWI case can vary from court to court depending upon which court your case is assigned to. Different arresting agencies have different procedures, and things progress depending on the circumstances surrounding your case. However, any DWI case ultimately begins with an arrest, then jail, then bail, then your first court date generally set 7 days after the date of arrest.
An Arrest in Harris County, TX
Most of the time, DWI cases begin with a traffic stop. However, some DWI arrests occur in parked cars in a parking lot, and some cases involve automobile accidents. At trial, officers usually testify that they first became suspicious of a possible DWI due to observations of a driver's speech, behavior, and smell. An officer will usually next ask if you've been drinking with the hope that you will make an admission that can be used against you. Next, the officer may request you perform field sobriety exercises and then ask you to take a preliminary breath test using a portable breathalyzer.
Depending on the outcome of those tests, the officer may arrest you and place you in the police car. From there, you will be taken to your local Texas jail. If there isn't a person who hasn't been drinking you can turn your vehicle over to, the police will have your vehicle towed and impounded at the time of your arrest.
At any point during the arrest, the police can use anything you say against you in court. Admissions that you were drinking are harmful, and admissions that you knew you were in no shape to drive can devastate your case. Even if you haven't been read your Miranda rights, the statements made can be some of the most critical evidence in your case. Most police cars are fitted with recording equipment, so even off-hand comments you make to the officer or yourself can wind up working against you.
Jail in Harris County, TX
Once you arrive at the jail, law enforcement will seek a breath, blood, or urine sample to determine if you were intoxicated. While you can refuse these tests, you can face additional legal consequences for doing so. Assuming you aren't exonerated and released by a chemical test, you will be booked into jail next.
The officers will then process you into the jail. This involves taking your fingerprints and asking you about your personal information, including your name, date of birth, address, social security number, and more. At this point -- if it hasn't been completed yet -- police officers will compare your personal information to their records to determine if you have any outstanding warrants. If you are facing other criminal charges but have not yet been served, you can expect that to happen in jail. If you have warrants for more serious crimes or even for unpaid court fines, you may find yourself in jail longer than if you had only been charged with a DWI.
Apart from providing basic identifying information about yourself, you are under no obligation to speak with police. Statements you make in jail to officers or other inmates can be used against you in court, so it is recommended that you remain silent. The officers will also search you upon entry to the jail to ensure you aren't carrying weapons or contraband. The police can keep anything they believe to be evidence against you; the rest of your property will be returned to you after your release. This process can take a few hours in total.
Once you have been completely processed into jail there is likely only one thought on your mind: getting out of there. In more serious cases, you may have to wait in jail for days before you can see a judge and get a release while awaiting trial. Thankfully, bail is available in most first-time DWI cases.
Bail is effectively an agreement between yourself and the court that you will appear at your upcoming court date for your DWI charge. In exchange for your release from jail, you pay the court an amount of money that is held until the completion of your case. If you break your agreement and fail to appear, you forfeit your bail. A family member or loved one can pay your bail personally or enlist a bail bondsman to do it for a fee. In addition to appearing at your court dates, the bondsman may also require that you check in regularly or meet other conditions.
There is no set bail amount in a DWI case, but it typically is no more than $1,000 for a first-time DWI arrest. For more serious charges, that amount can be much higher. Once your bail is paid, you will be released from jail in a matter of hours.
Hiring a Houston DWI Attorney
While it may be tempting to just bury your head in the sand upon your release, it's important to start working on your case immediately. You will be up against a skilled prosecuting attorney that is backed by the power of the State of Texas; your best chance for obtaining the best possible outcome is hiring a Houston DWI defense attorney that is ready to fight for your rights. There are deadlines that will approach quickly soon after your arrest, so it's important that you begin the process of finding the best DWI attorney for you as soon as possible.
Luckily, most criminal defense attorneys are prepared to consult with you regarding your case at no cost. At this consultation, it's important to ask questions. What kind of experience do you have with DWI cases? Do you always settle, or are frequently trying cases? How many trials have you had? Will you hand this case off to an associate and never see me again? Finding the right attorney is up to you, and you can only do that if you have the information you need.
Administrative License Revocation in Texas
The first step once you've selected your attorney doesn't relate directly to your criminal case. When you're charged with DWI, you will technically be facing two separate cases. The first is your criminal case that will ultimately determine if you go to jail and/or pay a fine. The second is a civil case that relates to your driver's license.
If you want to challenge your license suspension, you have fifteen (15) days from the date of your arrest to request an Administrative License Revocation (ALR) hearing. If you fail to request a hearing in that time your license will automatically be revoked due to your DWI arrest. Once a hearing date is requested, it typically takes two to four weeks for the date to be set.
While you are allowed to represent yourself at this hearing, it is recommended that you are represented by an experienced Houston DWI attorney. The rules of evidence are used in these hearings and an attorney's experience could be the difference between keeping your license and losing it.
The ALR hearing is useful in that it provides a chance for you to avoid any suspension of your driving privileges. However, it is also useful from a strategic standpoint by your attorney. Your attorney can call your arresting officer to the stand which will give you early insight into the officer's testimony. It will also serve to lock the officer into their story early on. Any inconsistencies between the officer's testimony at an ALR and trial can be used strategically by an experienced, resourceful attorney.
Preparing for a Texas DWI Trial with Your Attorney
At any point during this process, it's possible that the prosecutor will make a plea offer. You are under no obligation to take a plea. If you find it in your best interest to accept the offer after consulting with your legal counsel, your attorney can help walk you through the process.
But you are entitled to a trial, and preparing for the possibility of a trial from the very beginning of your case is in your best interest. If you choose to go to trial, it will be up to you to help your attorney build the strongest defense possible. You are the person that is most intimately familiar with your case, and your best chance for a positive outcome is to work closely with your attorney.
The Houston DWI Attorney that is Right for You
If you or a loved one has been arrested for DWI in Houston, Doug Murphy and his legal team can help. Attorney Doug Murphy is one of only two lawyers in Texas who is Board Certified in both DWI Defense and criminal defense. Doug Murphy is a veteran and decorated trial lawyer. While some attorneys are willing to push clients towards a plea bargain as soon as one is offered, Doug Murphy approaches every DWI case with the expectation that he will take your case to trial and fight for you in front of a jury of your peers. To discuss your case, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today to set up your free consultation.