While Texas is known for having some of the toughest DWI sentencing laws in the country, the legislature has taken steps to attempt to soften some of the impacts of a DWI conviction. The state's hope was that through a robust probation program, many first-time DWI offenders would avoid jail time while complying with the other requirements of the probation program. Unfortunately, the probation system has proven to be so costly and unwieldy that many people prefer simply serving their jail time than attempting to comply with the probation system.
Whether probation is worth it is different for everyone. It is highly recommended that you discuss your options regarding DWI sentencing with an experienced DWI lawyer before you make any decisions. While this situation is difficult, there are Houston DUI attorneys and Houston DWI attorneys that are ready to help.
If you have been charged or convicted of a DWI in Houston, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. Attorney Doug Murphy is a Houston DWI attorney that has in-depth knowledge of the DWI probation system and is ready to provide guidance. That knowledge is based on extensive experience practicing in Harris County and the surrounding area, as well as being a Board Certified expert in both DWI defense law as well as criminal law.
Texas DWI Probation
In Texas, “probation” is another name for a process known as community supervision. Texas DWI community supervision is governed by Chapter 42A of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. According to the code, community supervision is the placement of a defendant by a court under programs and sanctions for a specified period of time, during which:
- Criminal proceedings are deferred without an adjudication of guilt, or
- A sentence of imprisonment or confinement, imprisonment and fine, or confinement and fine, is probated and the imposition of sentence is suspended in whole or in part.
In other words, the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure allows DWI defendants in some cases to “probate” their sentence instead of going to jail, so long as they meet certain requirements. Some of the common requirements you may face if you receive probation for your DWI case are:
- Reporting to your probation officer once per month
- Not committing any further crimes during the length of the probation
- Paying a variety of fees and costs to the court
- Performing a large amount of community service
- Abstaining from alcohol
- Submit to breath-testing upon the request of law enforcement or your probation officer
- Attending substance abuse education classes
- Installing an ignition interlock device in your vehicle
- Remaining within the county of your residence unless granted permission from the court to leave
- Complying with any other requirement made by the judge.
The time and effort required to comply with these probation requirements are intense. It's important to note that the financial cost of probation can also be high. In addition to the standard court costs and fines you may be required to pay, you will also be responsible for the cost of your own probation. This can include a number of fees including:
- A reporting fee to cover your probation officer;
- A DWI education fee for any required classes;
- An Ignition Interlock device fee;
- Court costs;
- A fee for the costs of your substance abuse evaluation;
- A victim impact panel fee;
- A Crime Stoppers fee;
- Court-specific fees, including fees for paying with a credit card or using a payment plan.
When does a Texas DWI offender get probation over jail time?
Probated sentences are common in Texas DWI cases. In fact, it's possible to receive probation on felony DWIs as well as misdemeanors. However, the more serious the charge the more likely you will be required to spend at least a portion of your sentence in jail before your probation begins. While probation isn't guaranteed over jail time, the chances are good you could receive at least a partially probated sentence in your DWI case.
Can a Texas DWI offender choose between probation or jail?
In your Houston DWI case, you aren't always guaranteed the simple choice of probation or jail. Probation is optional, and it is ultimately at the discretion of the court on whether or not probation should be considered in your case. A better way to think about it is that you can always choose jail over probation, as the court will not require probation against your wishes.
However, if you elect jail, you open yourself up to serving whatever sentence the judge feels is appropriate. While it is counter-intuitive for some, there are a number of reasons why simply serving your jail sentence makes more sense than entering into probation. Discussing your case with a Houston DWI lawyer or Houston DUI lawyer will give you the best insight into how your choices may affect you.
When probation is offered as a plea deal in your Texas DWI case, should you take it?
Whether or not you want to request probation is entirely up to you. Some people are better situated than others to comply with the rigorous requirements of probation. While most people don't want any part of going to jail, the truth is under some circumstances it is preferable to probation.
Consider the following pros and cons of probation vs. jail time, but bear in mind this list is not exhaustive. To get the full picture of what Harris County DWI probation may mean to you, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. Attorney Doug Murphy will explain your options and help you understand the risks and rewards of probation versus jail.
The obvious benefit of probation is the opportunity to avoid going to jail. While more serious DWI charges will still carry a minimum stay in jail, most first-time offenders will avoid serving any jail time outside of their initial arrest. It's also worth noting that under a probated sentence the judge may also lessen the fines you have to pay and limit the amount of time you will be required to have an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle. If avoiding jail is your top priority, probation may be right for you.
Probation can also have a positive effect on your life in general. While alcohol assessments and substance abuse classes are often framed as a nuisance, they are helpful to some. What's more, avoiding jail time can be critical to maintaining employment in some cases. All in all, you will have the best shot at maintaining a normal life during probation.
Community supervision isn't all good news. The first thing to consider is that probation is expensive. For many, the costs are prohibitive. When you include all of the potential costs of probation, you could be facing hundreds of dollars in costs per month.
There are more than just financial costs. Compared to a jail sentence, the total length of time involved is much longer for probation than serving your jail sentence. For example, while a jail sentence can be completed in days or weeks, the probation process can last up to a year.
For many, the additional requirements over the course of that year are even worse than spending a month in jail. For example, while under probation you will be barred from consuming any alcohol and could be required to complete substance abuse training. Other requirements include a large commitment to community service as well as DWI education classes. And failure to comply with any of these requirements will lead to revocation of your probation, which will require you to complete your jail sentence. For some, the lengthy requirements of the probation system are not worth it.
Pros: Jail Time
While no one looks forward to time in the Harris County jails, it has the advantage of being a shorter, finite term. As long as you don't commit any additional crimes you can count on being completely finished with the criminal consequences of your conviction when you are released from jail. You will also avoid the extensive costs associated with probation. While there are no guarantees, it is possible that you may be able to serve your jail time on weekends.
Cons: Jail Time
The downsides of incarceration are obvious. Jail can be a difficult situation that carries a physical, mental, and emotional cost. What's more, you are unlikely to receive drug or alcohol treatment that comes with probation. And if you are unable to serve your sentence on weekends, and extended stay in jail could cost you your employment.
Why do some alleged DWI offenders choose to fight a DWI charge?
There are pros and cons related to both serving jail time and entering into probation. However, there are no downsides to having your case dismissed or winning at trial. And while DWI cases are defensible, there is no guarantee that you will prevail.
When it comes to proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of DWI, the prosecutor in your case has two options. You can be convicted of DWI if the State can show that you:
- Did not have the normal use of mental or physical faculties due to alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both; or
- You had a breath or blood alcohol concentration of .08 or more while driving.
While most people are familiar with the BAC limit, the first prong described above may be less familiar. Its purpose is to serve as a catch-all to bar any combination of alcohol or drugs that could lead to intoxicated driving. Often, a prosecutor will choose one prong and stick with it while building the case.
Building a Successful Defense
To build a winning defense, your attorney will need to start at the beginning. That will involve reviewing the police report in your case and discussing it with you. The responding officer for any arrest is required to file an official police report detailing what happened in the lead up to your arrest. Your attorney can use that report not only to develop a better understanding of the evidence against you but also to identify instances where your rights may have been violated by the police.
Another important piece of evidence your Texas DUI attorney will review is the dash cam video of the traffic stop. While video is not always available, it has become more commonplace in recent years. The video is valuable because it often covers the initial traffic stop that led to your arrest. This will give your attorney insight into whether you were stopped illegally. If the traffic stop in your case was unlawful, any evidence collected during the stop can't be used against you in court. The video could also contain footage of your field sobriety tests. Your attorney will be able to review the video for evidence that the tests were performed improperly.
Finally, your attorney will review the results of any chemical test you may have submitted. This can include breath, blood or urine. Your attorney will review the credentials of the person that administers the test as well as ensure the testing equipment was properly maintained. Breath-testing machines that are not properly calibrated can lead to false positives, which is a strong defense in any DWI case.
Ultimately, the most important factor in winning your DWI case is by hiring the right Texas DWI lawyer. You don't want to leave your freedom to chance, and hiring an attorney with expertise in DWI defense gives you the best odds of obtaining a positive result.
Hiring the Best DWI Attorney in Houston
If you have been arrested for DWI in Houston, you have a lot to consider. First, you must decide if you want to fight your charges in front of a jury of your peers. Second, if you opt to plead guilty you must determine if you want to request probation or not. Attorney Doug Murphy is ready to help you when considering these tough decisions. Doug Murphy is the best Houston DWI attorney.
A seasoned trial lawyer, Doug is a Board Certified expert in both DWI defense law and criminal law. In fact, he is one of only two attorneys in the State of Texas to be certified in both. To discuss your options, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today.