In many Texas counties, the court system has adopted so-called “DWI courts” in an attempt to increase public safety and cut back on the long-term costs of DWI enforcement. A Texas DWI court seeks to reduce the number of repeat DWI offenses through intense supervision. The end goal is to break the pattern of substance abuse and driving while intoxicated by rehabilitating DWI offenders as opposed to locking them up. And while the chance to avoid jail time is immediately appealing to many defendants, the truth is there are a lot of unexpected costs and hassle related to DWI courts. Before you agree to submit to a DWI Court in Texas, talk to a Houston DWI lawyer to learn about your options.
If you are facing charges in the Houston area, the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. is ready to guide you. Doug Murphy is an experienced Houston DWI attorney. He is a Board Certified expert in both DWI defense and criminal defense law. In fact, he is one of only two attorneys in the State of Texas with that distinction. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today for a free consultation.
What is DWI Court in Harris County?
In Harris County, the DWI Court program is known as Saving Ourselves By Education & Resources (SOBER). SOBER is operated by the Harris County criminal courts and seeks to promote long-term sobriety among high-risk DWI offenders in Harris County. The program is ultimately a collaboration between the Harris County judicial system and the Houston alcohol treatment community. It is designed for drivers at risk of repeated DWI convictions, not first-time offenders. The program allows defendants facing mandatory jail time to avoid incarceration in exchange for taking the steps toward identifying and addressing the root cause of their substance issues. The program also allows for the possibility of a reduction in certain fees as well as community service hours.
The length of time you will be in the SOBER program depends on your personal progress. However, the program will last at least 9 months and no more than 16 months. You will be required upon completion of the program to continue with supervised probation.
To participate, you will be required to pay a monthly supervision fee each month you are in the program. The monthly fee is $60, and you will be required to begin paying as soon as you are accepted into the SOBER program.
The SOBER program is large, with five different divisions permanently serving as SOBER DWI courts. These include Courts 1, 3, 11, 12, and 13. The program is voluntary. And while it offers an alternative to incarceration, it is not always in your best interest to participate. Houston DWI attorneys can explain the potential pitfalls in the SOBER program to you.
The Steps of the SOBER Program
To begin the process, you will first be required to submit to an alcohol and drug assessment. During the assessment, you will be required to answer questions regarding your history of drug and alcohol use. Based on the results of your assessment, you will receive a recommendation on a course of action for treating your substance issues.
The SOBER program is made up of our four separate phases. Each phase has varying treatment objectives and therapeutic activities. One phase leads to another, and you will be required to complete all four phases within 16 months in order to complete the program. Advancing from one phase to another and ultimately graduating from the program is at the discretion of the SOBER court judge.
Who qualifies for DWI Court in Harris County?
Not everyone is eligible to participate in the SOBER program. After a conviction for DWI, the court may refer your case to the SOBER program if you meet the following criteria:
- You lived in Harris County at the time of your assessment; and
- The assessment process identified you as high risk; and
- You are a citizen of the United States, a lawful permanent resident, or have an ICE-documented lawful presence in the United States; and
- You are currently charged with a DWI 2nd offense in Harris County; OR
- You are on supervision for a misdemeanor DWI and have violated conditions of your supervision regarding drinking or driving.
Even if you meet all of the eligibility requirements, you may be excluded from the SOBER program due to your prior criminal history. You will be excluded from the SOBER program if you have a previous conviction, deferred adjudication, or pending charge for any of the following crimes:
- Violent crimes;
- A case that involves the possession, use, or exhibition of a firearm; or
- Sex Offenses.
Additionally, you will be excluded from the program if you exhibit any mental health symptoms that may interfere with completing the program successfully.
What are the pros and cons of DWI Court in Harris County?
While there are advantages to enrolling in Harris County DWI Court, it is important to note that there are also drawbacks. The SOBER program is entirely voluntary, so it is up to you if the program is a good fit. Thankfully, Houston DWI attorney Doug Murphy has extensive experience with the Harris County court system. He can provide you with helpful guidance and tell you what to expect if you decide to enroll in the program.
Pros of Harris County DWI Court
The obvious benefit to enrolling in DWI Court is avoiding incarceration. No one wants to go to jail and staying out from behind bars is a strong motivator for many. By avoiding jail, you are also more likely to avoid interruptions in your life like the loss of employment.
There are other benefits, too. Enrollment in DWI Court will also likely lead to a lower number of required community service hours. Additionally, you may also receive assistance in obtaining an occupational driver's license that allows you to drive to and from work or school during your license suspension. The program also has an option for financial assistance in paying for alcohol devices like an ignition interlock device.
Cons of Harris County DWI Court
There are downsides to DWI Court, too. For starters, the length of time you will be tied up in the SOBER program is significantly longer than your actual jail sentence is likely to be. If you are sentenced to jail, you will complete your punishment and avoid all of the extra requirements of DWI Court in a much shorter amount of time. For some, the costs are also an issue. While $60 per month may not sound like a lot, that is in addition to the long list of other costs and fees that come with a DWI conviction.
Another issue is that you are opening yourself up to additional legal jeopardy and adding new restrictions on your freedom. Abstaining from drugs and alcohol is part of the SOBER program, and failing to comply with those limitations could land you in jail.
Finally, the time commitment for completing the SOBER program is significantly higher than simply serving jail time. While missing work due to being incarcerated can be a threat to your continued employment, it is likely that you will need to make even more arrangements for missing work or obtaining childcare to meet all of the treatment and court obligations of the SOBER program.
These are life-changing decisions, and they can't be taken likely. To discuss your options with Houston's best DWI lawyer, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C.
When should you accept DWI Court or when should continue to fight the charge?
Whether or not you should enroll in DWI Court is a decision that is best left to you and your Houston DWI attorney. However, it's important to note that winning your DWI case is possible. While it may feel like a conviction is inevitable, defendants regularly prevail at trial in front of a jury of their peers. While avoiding jail time after a DWI conviction has its advantages, the best-case scenario for you is to avoid a conviction altogether by winning at trial or having the charges against you dismissed.
Hiring the Best DWI Attorney in Houston
Doug Murphy is the Best Houston DWI attorney for a reason. A confident and experienced trial lawyer, he knows that taking a DWI case to trial is often your best chance at obtaining a positive outcome. That's why Doug Murphy prepares every case as if it will ultimately go to trial. That level of preparation gives you an advantage on trial day.
Doug Murphy has more than just experience; he also has the accolades to prove that he is the best. He is a Board Certified expert in both DWI defense law and criminal defense law. In fact, he is one of only two attorneys in the State of Texas to hold such a distinction. To become a board-certified expert, an attorney must have extensive courtroom experience and pass a challenging exam. This makes board-certification a reliable indicator that an attorney is exceptional. If you would like to discuss the merits of your case with Doug Murphy, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. for a free consultation.