Enjoying alcoholic beverages is a great way to celebrate, unwind, and connect with friends and family. Drinking responsibly at a party or after work is actually a constitutional right– and you are free to enjoy this right. But even the most responsible drinker can make a mistake, and sometimes this can result in an arrest for driving while intoxicated.
Being pulled over and charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) is not something anyone plans. It may be scary or embarrassing – but in actuality, this charge is very common both in Texas and other states across the country. More than one million people in the United States are arrested for driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol each year. Just because the police charge you with a DWI does not mean that a court will convict you of the charge.
A DWI conviction can carry serious legal and professional consequences, but it's important to remember that you are innocent until proven guilty. It's not hopeless, and you can defend a DWI. While it's impossible to put a specific number on your odds of getting a DWI dismissed, the best way to do that is to hire an attorney who is a DWI expert.
What is Driving While Intoxicated?
In Texas, the police can charge you with driving while intoxicated (DWI) in two ways:
- If you don't have the normal use of your physical or mental faculties; or
- If your blood alcohol content is .08% or more.
The police typically determine whether you are impaired, meaning you don't have the use of your normal physical and mental faculties, based on your behavior and responses to field sobriety tests. These are subjective observations by a police officer. As a result, police can charge you with a DWI even if your BAC is below the legal limit just based on their subjective judgment that you are driving while impaired.
Could Your DWI Be Dismissed in Court?
If you are facing a DWI in Texas, you may hope that it will get dismissed altogether – and of course, this is the best possible outcome. But how likely is it that this will happen?
Pleading Not Guilty
It is almost always in your best interest to plead “not guilty” in a DWI case. Pleading not guilty keeps your options open to challenge the DWI and to negotiate with the prosecutor. Statistics show that people who plead guilty to DWI have almost no chance of getting their case dismissed and are more likely to be convicted of the original offense.
However, if you plead not guilty, you have a 15% chance of dismissal and nearly a 30% chance of a conviction for a lesser charge. However, the exact DWI dismissal rate in Texas is difficult to determine because many law enforcement agencies don't track this information to avoid public backlash.
Texas Department of Public Safety statistics show that the state recorded 89,539 DWI arrests in 2017. Of these:
- 2,233 arrests resulted in a release with no charges;
- 15,793 arrests resulted in a conviction for the original offense;
- 5,759 received a conviction other than original offense; and
- 1,892 had their cases dismissed.
Note that entering a not guilty plea, hiring an experienced attorney, and choosing to fight your DWI charge in court can significantly increase your chance of having your charges reduced or dismissed.
How to Attack a DWI
The best way to determine how to approach your DWI case is to see how strong the state's DWI case against you is. While there are some common DWI evidentiary defenses, an ALR hearing is a good way to see how successful they might be.
Ask for an ALR Hearing
An Adjudicated License Revocation (ALR) hearing is a full legal proceeding that happens separately from your DWI trial. It is a hearing before a judge, and the main purpose is to determine whether the state should suspend your license.
When the police first arrest you for a DWI, they take your driver's license and give you a pink sheet of paper you can use as a temporary license. This temporary license allows you to drive for 40 days. Once it expires, the state automatically suspends your license pending the outcome of your DWI case. However, if you request an ALR hearing within 15 days, you can continue driving until a judge resolves your ALR matter.
At the ALR hearing, you and your attorney will have the opportunity to show that the state shouldn't suspend your license. Your attorney can do this by proving that the police violated your rights or the results of the BAC test are invalid. Some common ways to do this include:
- Showing that the initial traffic stop was invalid or the police didn't have reasonable suspicion for the stop;
- Pointing out that the police officer didn't properly administer the field sobriety tests;
- Showing the arresting officer didn't have probable cause for the arrest;
- Attacking the reliability of the breath or blood test; and
- Pointing out discrepancies in the arresting officer's testimony.
The ALR hearing is the perfect time for you and your attorney to test the strength of the state's DWI case against you. Your attorney can also lock any witnesses into their testimony, preventing them from changing the story before trial. If you are successful at the ALR hearing, you are more likely to have the state dismiss your charges or to succeed at trial.
Common DWI Defenses
Some of the most common defenses in a DWI case mirror the arguments used in an ALR hearing. The most common DWI defenses can include:
- Challenging reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop that led to your DWI arrest;
- Challenging probable cause for the arrest or the BAC tests, including how the officer conducted any field sobriety tests;
- Challenging probable cause for a blood test warrant;
- Challenging the accuracy of the blood or breathalyzer test results;
- Moving the court to suppress evidence;
- Challenging inconsistencies between the police report, police dashcam or body camera footage, and the arresting officer's testimony;
- Failure to give you a Miranda warning, informing you that you had the right to speak to a lawyer and to remain silent; and
- Challenging any violations of your constitutional rights.
While none of these arguments will ensure the outcome of your DWI case, taken together, they can be quite effective. An experienced DWI defense attorney can review your case, give you your options for a defense, and help you determine the best course of action.
What About Plea Bargaining?
In some cases, your attorney may get the state to reduce your charges to a lesser offense. This negotiated reduction is known as plea bargaining. A plea bargain is an arrangement with the prosecutor allowing you to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence.
Plea bargaining may be an option depending on your prior criminal record, your BAC level; whether the incident involved a crash or injury; and your behavior during your arrest. Some options for lesser charges include:
- Obstruction of a passageway: This charge essentially refers to the driver illegally blocking a roadway or sidewalk and carries a lower penalty than a DWI.
- Reckless driving: Reckless driving is a major moving violation that involves willful disregard for safety or property. If you're facing felony DWI charges, reducing your charges to reckless driving will result in a misdemeanor.
- Public intoxication: This offense refers to a person being in a public place while intoxicated enough to be a danger to themselves and others. This charge is considered a Class C misdemeanor and carries less harsh penalties than a DWI.
Why You Need an Experienced DWI Attorney Specialist
You have the right to defend yourself in court. However, it is unwise to do so when facing a DWI charge. You will almost always face harsher penalties and heftier fines without an experienced DWI defense attorney representing you.
Defending a Texas DWI case requires intricate knowledge of the law, the rules of evidence, and the technology used in DWI cases. An attorney who is a DWI specialist will see the weaknesses in the state's case and have years of experience defending DWI cases. Your best bet for an acquittal is to hire a skilled DWI specialist defense attorney.
Have You Been Charged with a DWI in Texas?
If you're facing a DWI, you need a skilled criminal defense and DWI attorney who knows how to examine every aspect of your case and achieve the best possible outcome for your future. Attorney Doug Murphy is Board Certified in DWI defense by the National College for DUI Defense, accredited by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and the American Bar Association. He is one of only two attorneys in Texas Board Certified in both DWI Defense and Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
Murphy has extensive experience defending clients in a wide range of criminal cases and is a Texas criminal defense community leader. U.S. News and World Report included Murphy on their Best Lawyers in America list every year from 2013 to 2020. Contact our office today for a case evaluation. Best Lawyers in America also recently named Doug the “Lawyer of the Year” for 2021 in DWI defense based on the peer reviews of fellow Houston-area attorneys.
If you're facing a DWI charge, give us a call. You need knowledgeable, skilled advice about your DWI defense, and we can help.