If you have been arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated in the Houston, Texas area, the pressure on you can be intense. A conviction for DWI can cost you thousands of dollars, the loss of your driving privileges, and even your freedom. The stakes are even higher in cases where you were arrested for DUI with a child passenger or seriously injured another person while driving drunk. But this likely isn't the full extent of the stress you face.
If you have never been arrested before, the entire criminal justice system can seem daunting. There are dozens of courts in and around Houston. Which one are you supposed to appear at? Who is in charge of prosecuting your case? Does it make any difference which county you were arrested in? These are all good questions.
While this page can provide you with some answers, it is important that you actually discuss your case with an experienced Houston DWI defense attorney. Your attorney will be able to guide you on the court you must appear in and what to expect when you get there. Doug Murphy has years of experience defending the rights of the accused in the Houston area. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today to discuss your options and gain insight into your upcoming court appearance.
The Houston Court System
How your Houston DWI charge progresses depends largely on the county you are arrested in. Houston is the 4th-largest city in the nation with the population spread across multiple counties. Each county has their own series of courts, and the way your case progresses can vary greatly depending on the county. The bulk of the population resides in the three largest counties: Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery.
Harris County is by far the largest county with over 4 million residents. It has more residents than all of the other nearby counties combined. The second largest county is Fort Bend with over 500,000 residents. The third largest county is Montgomery, with more than 455,000 residents.
Courts Hearing DWI Cases in Harris County, Texas
With over 4 million residents, it is no surprise that the Harris County Court System is enormous. Whether your case is charged as a felony or a misdemeanor will have an effect on which court you are assigned to.
Harris County Criminal Courts of Law
If you are charged with a misdemeanor DWI in Harris County, your case will be assigned to a Harris County Criminal Court of Law. Criminal Courts of Law have exclusive jurisdiction over Class B misdemeanors. In addition, they are the sole court for Class A misdemeanors with a fine that does not exceed $500. There are a total of 16 Criminal Courts of Law in Harris County. Each of them is housed in the Harris County Criminal Justice Center located at 1201 Franklin, Houston, Texas 77002.
S.O.B.E.R. DWI Courts
Five of the Harris County Criminal Courts of Law are designated as S.O.B.E.R DWI courts. Sober stands for Saving Ourselves By Education and Recovery. It is a DWI program exclusive to Harris County. The program operates as a rehabilitation program for high-risk DWI offenders. Through the S.O.B.E.R. courts, it is possible to substitute a treatment program for incarceration. The program is voluntary, but not every defendant qualifies.
To be eligible for a S.O.B.E.R. court:
- Your DWI conviction is your 2nd DWI conviction in Harris County; or
- You were on supervision for a misdemeanor DWI, but violated the conditions of the supervision by drinking and/or driving; or
- The assessment process identified you as a high risk; and
- You lived in Harris County at the time of the assessment; and
- You are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident or have an ICE-documented lawful presence in the United States.
It is important to know, however, that even if you are eligible for this program, it may not be for you. You must adhere strictly to the rules and terms of the court or else risk jail time.
You will be excluded from the program if you have a prior conviction or pending charge for a violent crime, sex offense, or possession of a firearm. Additionally, mental health symptoms that may interfere with the successful completion of the program can also prevent you from being admitted to S.O.B.E.R. court.
Again, while these courts appeal to many, it is not always in your best interest to participate in these programs. Before entering any type of plea in a DWI case, you should consult with an experienced Houston DWI defense attorney.
Harris County District Courts
If you are charged with a felony DWI or an alcohol-related felony like intoxication assault or intoxication manslaughter, your case will be assigned to the Harris County District Court. District courts have exclusive jurisdiction for any felony that carries a prison sentence of over 1 year. There are 22 Harris County District Courts in total. You can search the court records for Harris County District Courts at the Harris County Clerk's website.
Courts Hearing DWI Cases in Fort Bend County, Texas
If you are facing a DWI charge in Fort Bend County, the court that hears your case will depend in part on whether you have been charged with a felony or misdemeanor.
- If you have been charged with a felony in Fort Bend County, your case will be heard in the Fort Bend County District Courts.
- If you are a facing a misdemeanor charge, your case will likely be heard in a Fort Bend County Court of Law.
However, in some cases, a misdemeanor will be heard in the Fort Bend County District Court. You can find out which court your case is in and which judge is assigned to your case by visiting the Fort Bend County online case search.
The reference to these courts in the plural form may conjure the image of dozens of courthouses spread throughout Fort Bend County. However, it is important to note that all Fort Bend County District Courts and County Courts of Law are housed in the same building. Each of the Fort Bend County Courts is located at:
Fort Bend County Justice Center
1422 Eugene Heimann Circle
Richmond, TX 77469
Fort Bend County Courts at Law
County Courts of Law are empowered to hear both criminal and civil complaints. There are a total of five County Courts of Law, with an additional two Associate County Courts of Law handling some of the caseloads. Each court has an assigned courtroom and a judge to oversee it. These courts typically handle the misdemeanors in Fort Bend County.
Fort Bend County District Courts
While Fort Bend County District Courts are capable of hearing misdemeanors, the primary focus is felonies. Keep in mind if you are charged with a mixture of misdemeanors and felonies stemming from the same incident, the County District Courts are likely to hear your misdemeanor charges alongside your felonies. In all, there are 8 County District Courts that your case could be assigned to. They include:
- The 240th Judicial District Court
- The 268th Judicial District Court
- The 328th Judicial District Court
- The 387th Judicial District Court
- The 400th Judicial District Court
- The 434th Judicial District Court
- The 458th Judicial District Court
- The 505th Judicial District Court
Courts Hearing DWI Cases in Montgomery County, Texas
If you have been arrested for DWI in Montgomery County, the court your case is assigned to will depend on if you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. The location within the county will also affect which court you appear before. There are five separate Montgomery County Courts at Law; three of which handle misdemeanor criminal cases. If you are charged with a DWI-related felony, your case will be heard in one of the seven Montgomery County District Courts.
Montgomery County Courts at Law
Montgomery County Courts at Law 1, 4, and 5 each hear misdemeanor criminal cases including DWI cases. County Courts 2 and 3 deal with cases other than criminal prosecutions. All of the County Courts at Law are located in the Atrium Building at 210 West Davis in Conroe, Texas. In addition to Class A and Class B misdemeanors, the County Courts at Law also hear appeals from municipal courts and Justice of the Peace cases.
Montgomery County District Courts
All felonies that occur in Montgomery County are heard in one of the seven Montgomery County District Courts. All seven District Courts reside at the Montgomery County Courthouse. You can review the details of your case by using the Montgomery County District Court's searchable court docket.
Hiring the Right Houston DWI Defense Attorney
Have you been arrested for DWI or an alcohol-related felony in Houston? Determining how to proceed with your criminal case by yourself can be daunting. Luckily, you don't need to deal with it alone. Doug Murphy has been guiding his clients through the Houston justice system successfully for years. Doug Murphy's credentials are unmatched. He is one of only two attorneys in Texas to be Board Certified as an expert in both DWI defense law and criminal defense law.
The Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. is well-versed in defending cases throughout the Houston area. If you would like to discuss your case with Houston's top DWI defense attorney, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. to set up a free consultation today.