If you're facing a DWI, it's hard to know where to turn. How do you distinguish the best Houston DWI lawyers who provide the best representation from the ones who just have a good looking website? It's important to look beyond the splashy websites, billboards and radio ads. The attorney who attracts the most business because of their marketing is not necessarily the most qualified DWI lawyer or the best lawyer for your situation.
To find a skilled and experienced Houston DWI lawyer, you should examine the lawyer's credentials and awards:
- An experienced attorney who has handled 1000s of Administrative License Revocation (ALR) hearings
- Specialized DWI legal and technical knowledge with board certification
- Interview answers and a good fit for your situation
- A DWI specialist with excellent qualifications
- Recognized by his/her peers for excellence in legal community
Administrative License Revocation Hearing Lawyer
Most of us need to drive to work, to school, take our children to the doctor, and get the necessities of life. But when the police arrest you for DWI, they will also confiscate your driver's license. When they release you after your arrest, you'll get a pink piece of paper that serves as a temporary driver's license for 40 days. After that, the state will automatically suspend your license until the conclusion of your DWI trial, whatever the result may be.
The state will suspend or revoke your license if the police arrest you for DWI or boating while intoxicated and you:
- Refuse to take or fail to complete a blood or breath test,
- Provide a blood or breath test that registers a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more while driving a non-commercial motor vehicle, or
- Provide a blood or breath test that registers a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.04% or more while driving a commercial motor vehicle.
To avoid having your license revoked after your arrest, you can request an Administrative License Revocation (ALR) hearing. If you request an ALR hearing within 15 days, you can continue to use your temporary license until your ALR hearing, even if it extends beyond the 40 day temporary license period. In some cases, it can take up to 120 days to schedule an ALR hearing. However, many DWI lawyers won't represent you in an ALR hearing.
What is an ALR Hearing?
An Administrative License Revocation (ALR) hearing is an administrative hearing with the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). A judge will hear some of the evidence in a DWI case and determine whether or not the state should suspend your license. An ALR hearing is a civil, rather than criminal, determination, and the administrative judge will not decide on your guilt or innocence concerning your criminal DWI charge.
What Happens During the ALR Hearing?
The hearing won't be quite as formal as a criminal trial, but the court will hold both the defendant and the state to the rules of evidence. While you aren't required to have a lawyer, it can be difficult for someone without legal training to successfully challenge witness testimony and BAC evidence in a formal hearing.
To uphold your license suspension at the hearing, the state must prove:
Reasonable Suspicion for the Stop
The state must show reasonable suspicion that you committed the traffic violation that was the original reason for your stop. The police officer must be able to articulate facts that explain why they pulled you over. The “reasonable suspicion” standard is fairly low.
Probable Cause for the Arrest
Next, the state must show that the police had probable cause to arrest you. Probable cause means that it is more likely than not that the person arrested committed the alleged crime. The police officer makes this determination based on their interactions with you during the traffic stop, field sobriety tests, and portable breath test results.
Blood Alcohol Content Level Over the Legal Limit
The state must also show that your blood alcohol content (BAC) was over the legal limit with a breath or blood test. In Texas, the legal limit is .08% or .04% for a commercial driver's license holder.
The state does not need to prove all three elements “beyond a reasonable doubt” like it would at a criminal trial. Rather, its burden is only to prove its case by a “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning it's more likely than not or 50.1%. If the state can't convince the judge on any of these three elements, the judge will reinstate your license. This hearing can be an excellent chance for your attorney to challenge the objectivity of the field sobriety tests and the BAC results and lock the prosecution's witnesses into testimony that they cannot change at trial.
Even if you don't win your ALR hearing, the hearing can be a good strategic move for your DWI case. The hearing gives you and your attorney an advanced look at the evidence against you and the evidence the state intends to present at trial. This ALR hearing is also a good chance for your attorney to negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce your charges to another offense or drop the charges altogether. However, your chances of success are much greater with an attorney by your side at the ALR hearing. As a result, it's essential that you hire a DWI attorney who will also represent you at an ALR hearing.
Advanced DWI Legal and Technical Knowledge
Not every attorney who holds themselves out as a DWI or criminal attorney has advanced knowledge about DWIs. A skilled DWI attorney will have litigation experience and advanced training in both the legal issues faced in DWI cases and the technical and scientific knowledge needed to challenge blood alcohol evidence at trial.
In Texas, the police will use either a breath or blood test to determine your blood alcohol level. It's important to remember that your lawyer can still challenge the results in court even if your BAC comes back over the legal limit. But your attorney has to know how to do this, and typically only an experienced DWI attorney will know what to do.
Just because a breathalyzer result shows your BAC above the legal limit does not mean the results are accurate. Breath BAC tests are notoriously temperamental, and many factors can change the results, including:
- Not getting deep lung breath samples,
- Police officers who aren't well trained in using the equipment,
- Substances in the mouth,
- Medical conditions,
- Medications you've taken or food you've eaten, and
- Police improperly storing, cleaning, calibrating, maintaining, or using the breathalyzer.
Challenging a blood test is generally more difficult than challenging a breath test because blood tests can be more accurate. However, a skilled DWI attorney can challenge your blood test results. Your attorney will examine the state's blood collection protocols, procedures, and analysis, looking for any indication that the blood test results might be inaccurate, including:
- Drawing blood from an artery rather than a vein, which can result in a higher and less accurate BAC,
- Drawing an inadequate amount of blood to perform the test,
- A blood sample drawn by someone not properly trained,
- Not properly mixing the blood with anticoagulants,
- Not properly storing the blood sample,
- Using alcohol swabs before collecting blood,
- A broken chain of custody, and
- Equipment not properly cleaned or calibrated.
An experienced DWI attorney will know how to challenge BAC evidence in court.
A Good Interview Fit
Sometimes we tend to downplay listening to our gut. But if you and your lawyer aren't a good fit and you both don't have the same expectations for your representation, you aren't going to be happy with the results. So, it's important to interview prospective DWI lawyers before you hire one. Most are more than willing to offer you a consultation. Aside from listening to your gut about whether you're a good fit, there are some important questions you should ask during an interview or consultation, including:
What are my legal options, and what is my best option?
An attorney likely can't give you a comprehensive case evaluation in an initial consultation. Still, if you share the factual basis for your arrest, they may be able to give you some ideas. They may discuss:
- The possibility of a plea bargain,
- Pros and cons of a trial or ALR hearing,
- How the unique factors in your case may affect the outcome, and
- Plea bargains, sentencing, and other consequences of a guilty verdict or plea bargain.
Will you handle my case? If not, who will?
In some larger offices, attorneys routinely hand off cases to junior attorneys or associates. You should talk to the attorney who will handle your case and be primarily responsible for communicating with you before making a hiring decision.
How will the case proceed?
At this point, you may have no idea what happens next. Your attorney should be able to tell you the process, how long it might take, and what you and your attorney should do next. It's important that you both have clear expectations about how the case will proceed, how often your attorney will communicate with you, and what you will need to provide as well. Of course, you'll also want to know that your attorney will promptly respond to your questions about the case progress and the firm's fee structure and costs.
DWI Specialist and Qualifications
Looking for a DWI specialist with excellent qualifications and certifications can make your search for a skilled DWI attorney that much easier. The National College for DUI Defense, conducted at Harvard Law School, is the premier organization in the U.S. dedicated to training and certifying legal experts in DWI defense.
The NCDD's mission is to “provide the finest advanced-level training available to the DUI Defense Law practitioner.” The organization uses a rigorous examination and application process to certify only the most experienced lawyers as DWI experts. NCDD also trains attorneys in advance DWI defense and litigation skills, including:
- Attacking field sobriety tests,
- Attacking blood and breath BAC tests,
- Development of DWI trial opening and closing statements,
- Cross-examining police and state witnesses, and
- How to develop and use defense witnesses.
You need a Houston DWI lawyer who is Board Certified in DWI defense. Certification by NCDD tells you that a lawyer has extensive litigation experience in complex DWI cases and advanced training in the scientific and technical knowledge needed to challenge BAC testing.
Hire a Quality Texas DWI Lawyer
If you're facing a Texas DWI charge, you want a quality DWI attorney, not the lawyer with the slickest marketing brochure. Attorney Doug Murphy is a dedicated and passionate leader in the Houston legal community and throughout Texas. Doug is one of only two attorneys in Texas Board Certified in both criminal defense law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and DWI defense by the National College for DUI Defense, accredited by the American Bar Association and the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
Doug is also the immediate past President for the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association and serves on the Board of Regents for the National College for DUI Defense. He previously served on the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association board and with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. Doug brings more than two decades of criminal defense and DWI trial experience to the courtroom as an ardent advocate for his clients. He helps people one of the most vulnerable points in their lives, respects this privilege, and strives to treat each person with respect and dignity.
In the community and outside the courtroom, Doug also works tirelessly for clients. The Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association awarded him the Sharon Levine Unsung Heroes Award for helping to expose flaws in the Houston Police Department's Blood Alcohol Testing vans. This exposure led to the HPD decommissioning the vans.
When you're facing the stress of an arrest and a DWI charge, you need assertive yet skilled representation. Find out why the Houston Press named him the “Drinking Driver's Best Friend.” See what a Board Certified DWI Specialist can do for you by contacting Doug Murphy today for a case evaluation and consultation.