If you have been arrested and charged with “driving while intoxicated” (DWI), take it seriously, but remember this: A DWI charge is not a conviction. People can, and do, win a DWI defense. But it's important to get a DWI Specialist as soon as possible, to help you not only prepare a winning defense, but they're also essential to help you navigate the period from arrest through to the trial. In some cases, this can be a lengthy wait: It can take more than a year before a DWI goes to trial.
Many people know that a driver’s license may be suspended due to a DWI arrest. However, most people are unaware that a court can set other conditions for a defendant to obtain pre-trial release—far more than posting of a bail bond and suspension of their driver's license. But the problem here is that the judge alone is responsible for those specific conditions, and that is leading to wide disparity between the courts' decisions. Recognizing the issue, as a member of the Texas Impaired Driving Task Force, the Texas Justice Court Training Center (TJCTC) has created a new DWI Bond Condition Program that is being implemented on a county-by-county basis throughout Texas. To date, 26 counties have implemented the program, while another six counties have expressed interest in the program.
Bond Condition Requirements:
Under Texas’s Code of Criminal Procedure, a judge “may impose any reasonable condition of bond related to the safety of a victim of the alleged offense or to the safety of the community.” In the case of a DWI, bond conditions cannot be considered punishment—since the defendant has not yet been convicted of any crime—but as long as the condition is considered reasonably related to the community's safety, it's presumably acceptable.
Typical bond conditions include:
- Installation and use of an ignition interlock device (IID) in the defendant's car
- Participation in alcohol-awareness education programs
- Required abstention from alcohol and drugs
- Alcohol and drug testing
- Home curfews
- Home confinement
If a defendant has already been charged with a previous DWI, or if they have been currently charged with a DWI with escalated penalties (e.g., a DWI with child passenger), Texas law requires that the defendant must install an IID in their vehicle, and they cannot operate any vehicle without an IID.
The court can also order the defendant to pay for a monitoring service to ensure that the defendant is complying with the conditions. The monitors can range from the court itself to the local district attorney or a probation office. The IID can also have electronic monitoring.
Goals of The TJCTC DWI Bond Condition Program
In light of the variance of the bond conditions in courts, the Texas task force and the judicial training center have been spearheading a new, comprehensive initiative. This DWI bond program has the following goals:
- to increase the use of bond conditions known to reduce DWI recidivism
- to make the issued conditions more consistent from court-to-court
- to make defendants more aware of the requirements and the penalties for failing to comply
- to increase compliance through more consistent and effective monitoring and enforcement
To date, the program is voluntary. Therefore, interested counties notify TJCTC of their interest, and then TJCTC will arrange a presentation for representatives of all relevant county stakeholders—so they can consider their options and review what is actually going on in their county.
Consistency of Bond Conditions
If the county decides to move forward and adopt the program, TJCTC trains the local judges in the efficacy of specific bond conditions, by using TJCTC’s bond schematic, or it helps the county to build on its existing bond guidelines.
The TJCTC schematic sets out 14 separate conditions that could be imposed on a defendant. The first set of conditions relate to the use of an ignition lock—ranging from installation of the IID on the defendant's primary vehicle to use of it on any vehicle that the defendant might drive. For each of these conditions, the schematic also includes specific charges that require the IID condition and other related issues that a judge should consider.
A second set of conditions relates to alcohol and substance-use testing and monitoring. Again, these range from required testing at a facility to home confinement while wearing an electronic location-tracking device.
The last set of conditions is the most expansive, relating to “the safety of the community.” These conditions include wearing a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) monitoring device, counseling sessions, and even requiring a defendant to “avoid persons or places of disreputable or harmful character.”
Monitoring of the TJCTC DWI Bond Condition Program
Under the new program, TJCTC encourages probation departments do monitoring of DWI defendants. The reasoning for this is that monitoring for offenses is a bread-and-butter mission of probation departments. Probation officers (PO) are more set up for the task; they will learn of violations more quickly and thus be faster to return a defendant to jail. They even encourage that POs see the defendant while still in lock-up, to explain all of the conditions in place before the defendant is released from custody.
Potential Impact of the DWI Bond Condition Program on a DWI Defense
On the positive side, if more counties participate in the bond condition program, this would regularize bond hearings. Both defendants and their attorneys would be able to anticipate the conditions that could be set and thus better prepare any necessary arguments as to why those conditions were inappropriate.
Additionally, studies have shown that DWI defendants may re-offend prior to the trial—frequently when it comes to driving without their license—and this is particularly true if the trial is months after their arrest. If defendants are clearer about the conditions that have been set, and the likelihood of being caught for any violations, pre-trial recidivism may be reduced. And that would ultimately strengthen the defendant's case at trial.
On the other hand, DWI defense attorneys may need to be concerned that judges will not be using sufficient discretion in setting bond conditions—using them as punitive measures—once they have a checklist in hand, and they believe that there is a county-wide standard they should maintain.
It's possible that the required BAC testing or electronic monitoring is inaccurate, and it could mean a round of evidentiary analysis and hearings for violations of the bond, as well as the same assessments and hearings relating to the DWI arrest.
It's also concerning that probation officers would be meeting with incarcerated defendants prior to their release. DWI defense attorneys should do their best to be present at such meetings. If that is not possible, the defense attorneys should warn clients not to make any self-incriminating statements (that could be used in court) during these meetings.
All of which, once again, is a reminder of the absolute importance of having a DWI Specialist for your defense.
Houston attorney Doug Murphy is one of only two attorneys in the state of Texas who is Board Certified in both Criminal Law and DWI Defense. Bringing 20 years of experience in the courtroom in DUI defense, year-after-year, he is heralded as one of the Best Lawyers in America by US News & World Report and as a Texas Super Lawyer. Previously having served as President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, he is a national expert on DWI litigation.
If you are facing charges involving a DWI accident in Texas, contact Doug Murphy’s office today to discuss your case and begin working on your defense.