It's a phone call we all dread. A friend or family member calls to tell you that police just arrested your child or someone you love for DWI. But they have no idea where the police took them. This call can be frustrating, frightening, and panic-inducing.
If you believe the police arrested your child or someone you care for in Houston, how can you determine if they are really under arrest? How on earth can you find them? How can you help? What should you do? You can call a specialized Board Certified DWI attorney like Doug Murphy for help. Read on for some more tips on how you can find someone potentially arrested for DWI and what you can do to help.
What Happens After a DWI Arrest?
If the police arrest your child for a DWI, they'll transport them to a local police station to book them. Booking should only take a few hours, and most people arrest for DWI will stay in the Joint Processing Center in Harris County until released. While they can use the phone after their arrest, they probably won't be able to do so until after they are processed and booked. Even if your loved one can use the phone, they may not be able to reach you, may call someone else, or may not remember your phone number. Many people don't remember more than a few numbers in the age of cellphones since we can store so many electronically.
How Do I Find Someone Arrested in Houston?
You'll need some basic information about your loved one, including:
- Full name
- Social security number
You can use the Harris County Sherriff's Department online lookup tool to find someone arrested in Houston. If you can't find someone there, they may not be in the system yet. Once you find someone on this website, you should note their System Person Number (SPN). The justice system assigns all inmates an SPN, and you can use it to look up future information about the case.
Call the Joint Processing Center
Your next step should be to call the Houston Help Line at 713-837-0311 to see if the person is, in fact, in the Joint Processing Center at 700 North San Jacinto Street. If they aren't not proceeded yet, you can try back in a while. It does take law enforcement a long time for an arrestee to be booked and processed before they will appear on the website.
On the Harris County Sherriff's website, you can also find some useful information and links about DWI, including the:
- Offense Query: This lookup will show you whether someone is in jail, when they'll be released, and information on the case such as the next date and time and disposition.
- Inmate Contact Information: This page includes information about how an inmate makes calls, the phone call rules, information regarding recording calls, and how to set up advance pay calls.
- Inmate Bonding Process: This page will show you how to post bond for an inmate in Harris County and the various options available.
After you've found your loved one in jail, what can you do to help in the aftermath of a DWI arrest? You can help in many ways, including finding and hiring an experienced DWI attorney, finding the car, and dealing with other urgent matters for your loved one.
How Can an Experienced DWI Attorney Help?
One of the most urgent tasks will be hiring an experienced DWI attorney to develop a robust defense. When arrested for a DWI, many people think a guilty verdict is an outcome they can't change, but this isn't true. A skilled DWI attorney can evaluate your loved one's case and determine the best plan of attack and the best options for defense from the DWI charge. Defense tactics could include challenging the blood alcohol concentration evidence, reasonable suspicion for the stop, probable cause for the arrest, or other constitutional grounds.
Challenging BAC Evidence
Some people tend to see blood alcohol concentration(BAC) results as infallible, but they aren't. Police must conduct breath and blood tests under strict procedures. Equipment must be regularly maintained and calibrated, and police officers and techs must go through training on the use of the equipment. If any of this training on BAC equipment fails to happen or fails to happen regularly, the tests can be inaccurate.
While blood BAC tests are typically more accurate than breath tests, even these aren't always accurate. The length of time before a tech takes a blood sample, equipment maintenance, and even using an alcohol swab on a defendant before taking blood can all affect the accuracy of the result. Moreover, if the tech or police officer fails to maintain a documented chain of evidence, the test may be inadmissible in court. A skilled and board certified DWI attorney will know how and when to challenge BAC evidence in your loved one's case.
Challenging Reasonable Suspicion
When the police pull someone over, they must have “reasonable suspicion” that they've broken the law. Typically, this means that the driver broke a traffic law such as speeding, failing to signal a turn, swerving into another lane, or even driving too slowly can all be traffic violations that give the police reasonable suspicion to pull someone over. If the police don't have reasonable suspicion and your attorney can support that argument in some way, through police testimony, dashcam video, or in another way, then an attorney may be able to challenge your loved one's DWI charge in court.
Challenging Probable Cause
The police must have probable cause to arrest someone for DWI, search the car, or seize evidence. However, violating a traffic law alone isn't usually enough for a DWI arrest. According to the U.S. Supreme Court in Brinegar v. United States, probable cause “exists where the facts and circumstances within the officers' knowledge, and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information, are sufficient in themselves to warrant a belief by a man of reasonable caution that a crime is being committed.” 338 U.S. 160 (1949).
After the police pull someone over, they will use their interactions with the driver as probable cause for a DWI arrest. Probable cause can result from:
- Reckless driving
- Odor of alcohol or drugs in combination with one or more observations
- Drugs, alcohol, or drug paraphernalia in plain sight
- Physical behavior like slurred speech, failure to make eye contact, confusion, or impaired motor coordination and balance
- Attitude and interaction with police
- Refusal to take field sobriety tests
The absence of probable cause may invalidate your DWI arrest and your blood alcohol testing. An experienced Houston DWI lawyer will be experienced with this defense and understand how to challenge probable cause when necessary.
Other Constitutional Challenges
A skilled DWI attorney will also recognize when other constitutional challenges may be necessary, such as challenging a search and seizure or violating a defendant's Miranda rights. When the police arrest a loved one for DWI, the defendant still has rights. The police can't intimidate them or force them to make a statement. The police can't search their person or property without consent or a warrant, absent some specific circumstances. With a warrant, the police can't exceed the scope of the warrant.
Miranda Warnings: The Miranda warning we've all heard on TV that begins with “You have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney…” gets its name from a landmark Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona. 384 U.S. 436 (1966). That case established that statements a defendant makes in police custody are only admissible at trial if law enforcement told the defendant that they had the right to remain silent and speak with an attorney before an interrogation started. Moreover, if the defendant waives those rights, they must do so knowingly, voluntarily, and “in an intelligent manner.” In the context of a DWI, if the police arrest someone and then begin to question them about their drinking without issuing a Miranda warning and they say something incriminating, those statements may not be admissible in court.
Search & Seizure: To obtain a blood or breath test during a DWI stop, the police will first ask the driver if they'll take a breath test. But if the driver refuses and police have probable cause, they will then seek a warrant for a blood test. Similarly, when the police stop you for a traffic violation, they can't automatically search through your car. They can only search your car without a warrant if you consent, you're under arrest, they believe it's necessary to thwart a threat or emergency, or they have probable cause for a warrantless search. If the police don't have probable cause, your loved one's attorney can challenge the search in court.
Moving to Suppress Evidence
In a similar vein to constitutional challenges, an experienced DWI attorney will know when to employ a motion to suppress evidence against your loved one. The attorney may move to suppress evidence against the defendant when:
- The police didn't have reasonable suspicion for the initial traffic stop.
- The arrest wasn't lawful because the police didn't have probable cause for the arrest.
- The police didn't have probable cause to justify a search of the vehicle, a search of the defendant, or to obtain BAC evidence.
- Violating the defendant's constitutional rights such as failure to issue a Miranda warning or failure to obtain a warrant
- Failing to follow police protocols, rules, and regulations when conducting field sobriety tests, breath tests, blood tests, or drug examinations.
Relying on Video or Other Evidence
A skilled DWI defense attorney will also be well versed in using or discrediting police evidence such as videos from the police dashcam or body cameras. Under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, a defendant and their lawyer are entitled to see any video footage of the DWI traffic stop, the arrest, interaction between the defendant and the officer, and any field sobriety tests:
"A person stopped or arrested on suspicion of an offense under Section 49.04, 49.045, 49.07, or 49.08, of the Penal Code is entitled to receive from a law enforcement agency employing the peace officer who made the stop or arrest a copy of any video made by or at the direction of the officer that contains footage of: (1) the stop; (2) the arrest; (3) the conduct of the person stopped during any interaction with the officer, including during the administration of a field sobriety test; or (4) a procedure in which a specimen of the person's breath or blood is taken." Tex. Code Crim. Pro. Art 2.1396 (2015).
Your attorney may use police video in many ways, including:
- To contest reasonable suspicion for the stop: If the police stop you for swerving into another lane and the police dashcam doesn't
- show this, a good defense attorney can dispute that the police had reasonable suspicion to stop you.
- To show you did not appear intoxicated: If you appear to have clear eyes, slur-free speech, and passed your field sobriety tests with flying colors while on tape, this can only help your case.
- Holding police accountable: If the videos show police abusing their power, behaving aggressively, or appearing hostile while you remain cool, this can help your case.
- To attack the credibility of a police witness at trial: If the police report contradicts the video, a good defense attorney will use this evidence at trial. The video can challenge the police officer's account of what happened, raising doubt about their testimony and hopefully weakening a prosecutor's case at trial.
- To suppress evidence: If the police officer's body cam shows that they failed to give you your Miranda warning before interrogating you after an arrest, an experienced defense attorney can challenge the admission of any statements you gave.
Similarly, if you have video of your stop and arrest from a cell phone or a counted camera of your own, that may also be admissible at trial.
How Can I Post Bond or Bail?
Many attorneys can also help you with emergent issues like figuring out how to post bond, coordinating bail payments, and contacting the jail to find someone arrested for DWI. Often, the court will release someone charged with DWI on their own recognizance with no bail required. However, if you need to post bail or a bond, there are several options in Harris County.
- Bail: Bail is the security the accused gives the court that they will appear before the court to answer the charges against them. Bail can include either a personal bond or a bail bond.
- Bond: A bond is a written agreement executed by either the defendant or one or more sureties named by the defendant in the bond instrument. The defendant agrees to appear in court to answer charges against them. If the defendant fails to appear, the signer of the bond will pay the court the amount of money specified in the order.
- Bail Bond: A bail bond is a written agreement entered into by the defendant and his sureties to guarantee the defendant's appearance before the court. But for a bail bond, the defendant and sureties deposit money with the sheriff's department in the bond amount. If the defendant fails to appear, they will forfeit that money.
- Cash Bond: A cash bond is the full amount of the bond posted in cash, money order, or cashier's check. If the defendant appears in court as necessary, they will receive a refund from the Harris County Auditor's Office at the end of the proceedings. To post a cash bond, you will need a money order, cashier's check, or traveler's check for the full amount of the bond. The Harris County Sherriff's Office Bonding Section will instruct you regarding whom to make the money order payable when posting the bond.
How Do I Locate the Car?
After you've located your loved one, you're probably going to want to find their car. Upon arresting someone for DWI, the police often impound the defendant's car. However, the police don't have to do this. Several scenarios may happen after the arrest:
- The police may allow a family member to come to the scene and pick up the car while the police wait.
- The police may allow a sober passenger to drive the car.
- The police may arrange to have the vehicle towed or impounded.
Whether or not the police will wait for you or someone else to pick up the car is entirely within their discretion. If they impound the car, they will also search it. Ostensibly this car search is for safety reasons – for example, to ensure there isn't a gun in the car. The police also search the car to inventory the contents and ensure they get all of their property back. In reality, the police will be looking for contraband, including illegal drugs, weapons, or paraphernalia.
To find the car, if the police impound it, go to FindMyTowedCar.com. You must enter the car's license plate, the vehicle identification number (VIN), and other information about the car. Typically, a car won't appear on this website until about two hours after the police tow it.
Any Other Urgent Matters?
After a loved one is arrested for DWI, you may also want to consider any other urgent matters where you can step in. Does your loved one have a child in daycare or at the babysitter that needs care? Are there any pets that should be watered, fed, and walked in the interim? Does your loved one need someone to contact an employer to let them know that there's an urgent family matter and ask for a vacation or sick day? Consider all the ways you may need to step in during the first 24 hours to assist.
How Do I Choose a DWI Attorney in Houston?
When you hire a DWI attorney, your attorney should focus on finding the best possible defense. An attorney immediately focused on plea bargaining without truly reviewing the entire case may not be the best choice. An evaluation of the case and evidence may reveal that it's best to take the case to trial.
You also want to hire an attorney who is a board certified DWI expert, not a general practitioner. You need an experienced litigator who has tried many criminal cases, as well as someone well versed in the nuanced legal and technical issues that come up in DWI trials. Intimate knowledge of a DWI defendant's rights before and after an arrest can make or break a solid DWI defense. Any lawyer you hire should be able to handle any complex constitutional issues that may arise in a hearing or at trial.
A good DWI attorney also needs a good working knowledge of many technical and scientific issues that may weave throughout your loved one's trial. At first glance, a DWI case may not seem like a complex criminal trial, but it's one of the criminal charges most consistently reliant on objective, measurable scientific evidence – blood alcohol concentration. Any attorney you hire must know the details of how a breathalyzer works, the technical steps involved in using a gas chromatograph to obtain BAC from a blood sample, and everything that can go wrong in these processes. Technical DWI knowledge is essential to a robust, knowledgeable DWI defense.
Hire an Expert in Texas DWI Defense
Attorney Doug Murphy is one of only two Texas board-certified attorneys in DWI Defense and Criminal Law. Because Doug has handled hundreds, if not thousands of DWI cases, he has the wide breadth of experience in DWI defense necessary for complex DWIs and appeals. From 2013 to 2021, U.S. News & World Report included him as one of their “best lawyers” on their list of “Best Lawyers in America by Woodward White.” Doug was voted “Lawyer of the Year” in 2021 by his peers for Houston region for his work in DWI defense by Best Lawyers in America.
Doug currently serves as the Dean of the National College for DUI Defense, and is a former President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, working hard as a criminal defense law advocate in the Houston area, both in and out of the courtroom. The Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association also awarded Doug the Sharon Levine Unsung Hero Award after he helped expose the flaws in the Houston Police Department's Breath Alcohol Testing vans, leading to the department take the vans out of service.
There's a reason the Houston Press refers to Doug Murphy as the “drinking driver's best friend.” Find out how he can help you or a loved one as well. Call the Doug Murphy Law Firm at 713-229-8333 today to set up a consultation.