You made a mistake thinking you were OK to drive when you weren't. Now you have been arrested, booked and released on a charge of driving while intoxicated in Houston. You were given a court date at the time of your release but aren't really sure what an “arraignment” is. Now your court date is here and the judge is asking you how you want to plead.
If your first court appearance has arrived and you haven't hired an experienced Houston DWI defense attorney stand with you, you've already made your first mistake. The ramifications of your plea decision are enormous, and a mistake could affect your criminal record for the rest of your life. You could be at risk of losing your security clearance or your medical license.
The truth is if you haven't hired an attorney before your arraignment date arrives you've made your first mistake. Time is of the essence when it comes to DWI cases and you should consult an attorney as soon as possible. If you have been arrested for DWI in the Houston area, the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. is ready to review your case with you and discuss your options.
Arraignment – Pleading Not Guilty, Guilty, or No Contest
Thanks to the 6th Amendment of the United States Constitution, you are guaranteed the right to have any criminal charges read to you. One of the injustices the Constitution set out to bar is being arrested and held without knowing what crime you are even accused of. In the State of Texas, the courts meet this obligation through an arraignment hearing. An Arraignment hearing is a court appearance in which you and the prosecutor in your case go before the judge. Often a judge will hear a large number of arraignment cases back to back at a single court setting.
If you are released after your DWI arrest, you will be given paperwork that informs you of your arraignment date. If you fail to appear on that date, an arrest warrant will be issued. If for some reason you are not released on bail or bond after your arrest, you will be brought in front of the judge for your arraignment by law enforcement.
At the arraignment, the judge will formally read aloud all the crimes you have been charged with. If you do not have an attorney with you at your arraignment, the judge will inform you of your right to have one. You will also be given the opportunity to ask for a court-appointed attorney, although you must meet strict financial standards to qualify. Before the hearing is over, the judge will ask you to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Only you can decide what your initial plea will be; neither the court nor your defense attorney can force you to choose a specific plea.
When you plead not guilty, you are effectively telling the court that you disagree with the charges against you and that you want a trial. This is the only option that keeps your case open and avoids a criminal conviction on your record. Once you plead not guilty, your case will continue.
Your defense attorney will request to view the evidence against you. If your attorney discovers a valid defense or grounds for dismissing the case, the court will take those issues up at a preliminary hearing. Eventually, your case will go to trial in front of a jury of your peers. Keep in mind, just because you plead not guilty at arraignment doesn't mean you cannot eventually change your plea.
By pleading guilty, you are admitting to the crime you are accused of. This brings your case to an end and results in a criminal record. If you entered a guilty plea after negotiating a plea agreement with the prosecutor, the court will consider the plea deal and decide to implement it or not. If there isn't a plea agreement between you and the prosecutor and you still plead guilty, it is up to the judge in your case to hand down a sentence that complies with the maximum and minimum sentence available. This is a dangerous prospect, as the judge in your case could choose to give you the harshest sentence possible. When you plead guilty, you are waving your right to a jury trial. The judge will also talk with you to determine you are pleading guilty of your own will and that you believe yourself to be guilty of the crime.
A plea of no contest in your Houston DWI Case is effectively a guilty plea. Also known as pleading Nolo Contendere, a plea of no contest allows you to acknowledge there is enough evidence presented to convict you of a crime, but that you likewise do not plead either guilty or not guilty. Just like with a guilty plea, a no contest plea will end the case against you and cost you your right to a trial. If the prosecutor agrees to a no contest plea, it can contain a suggested sentencing agreement just like guilty pleas have.
The major benefit for a no contest plea is that by not taking responsibility in the case, it may help you avoid a civil suit that would have followed a guilty plea. In most cases, however, a no contest plea will be no different than a guilty plea. Your only chance to win your DWI case is to refuse any plea offers and let your Houston DWI Defense attorney try the case in front of a jury of your peers.
Pleading Not Guilty in your Houston DWI Case
Ultimately, it is always in your best interest to plead not guilty at your arraignment. Even if you go into the case just wanting to plead guilty, you should always take the time to discuss your case with an experienced Houston DWI defense attorney. The prosecutor in your case will have dozens of cases like yours on their plate, but your experience in this process is limited. So how do you know if the plea deal the prosecutor is offering you is standard or fair? Attorney Doug Murphy has spent years defending DWI cases in the Houston area and can draw from his extensive experience to put a plea offer into context.
With an experienced, aggressive DWI defense attorney, any form of a plea bargain is likely not in your best interest. Despite the confidence the prosecutor in your case is likely to show, the truth is the burden to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is large. The State must prove every element of DWI to obtain a conviction, and your defense attorney needs to only show a jury that one of those elements hasn't been met. By aggressively preparing your case for trial, your attorney may be able to negotiate lesser charges or even a full dismissal of the charges against you. None of that would be possible with a plea of guilty or no contest.
Qualities You Need In a DWI Defense Attorney
It is important to hire the best DWI lawyer available if you are going to make the most of your not-guilty plea. It is possible to win your DWI case, but only if you have an aggressive, experienced trial lawyer that is ready to fight for you. To determine if a defense attorney is right for you, there are a few questions you should ask before hiring. Your choice of an attorney is critical and you need the best information available.
Questions to ask a prospective attorney:
- How much Texas DWI trial experience do you have?
- Do you have any special certifications or accreditations?
- What were the outcomes of cases similar to mine?
- Do you handle both administrative and criminal DWI cases?
The questions above are important to gauge whether you have found the right defense attorney or not. But awards and accreditations aren't the only things that matter; it's important that you trust your defense attorney. It is your freedom that's on the line and you should feel like your attorney is acting in your best interest at all times.
Hiring the Right Houston DWI Attorney
When it comes to Houston DWI attorneys, Doug Murphy checks all the boxes. He is an aggressive defense attorney that approaches every case as if it would be tried in front of a jury. Doug Murphy believes that DWI cases are defensible and that a trial is often your best bet for a positive outcome. With hundreds of hours of trial time, Doug Murphy knows his way around a courtroom.
When it comes to accreditation, Doug Murphy is at the top of the list as well. He is a Board Certified expert in both criminal defense law and DWI defense law, making him one of only two attorneys with that distinction in the entire State of Texas. If you would like to discuss the merits of your case with Houston's top DWI Defense attorney, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. to set up a free consultation.