Your Fort Worth DWI Case: The Basics
It was a bit of a risk for a first date -- line-dancing lessons at Billy Bob's Texas -- but it turned out great. You bonded while two-stepping and throwing back a few (maybe more than a few) beers. There would definitely be a second date and you were feeling great. She had to get home, though, so you coasted out to the car. You had barely driven three blocks on N. Main when you saw a patrol car behind you. Next thing you knew you were being pulled over and charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI).
What do you do now? What happens? Here is some basic information to help you with your DWI case in Panther City.
The Law in Texas
Texas law provides that you commit the offense of driving while intoxicated when you drive in a "public place" while having a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or more or while "not having the normal use of your mental or physical faculties" due to alcohol or drugs.
The penalties for a DWI are both criminal and administrative. The criminal aspects will likely be handled in Tarrant County Criminal Court, while the administrative aspects are handled through the Texas Department of Public Safety and the State Office of Administrative Hearings.
The Stop and Arrest
When you are pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving, the officer will probably first ask you a few questions, including whether you've had anything to drink recently. The officer will be observing you for signs of intoxication (smell of liquor, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, etc.).
He will likely then ask you to take the standard three-part field sobriety test in which you are required to stand on one leg, walk a straight line and turn, and follow a moving object with your eyes. These tests are designed to further assist the officer to determine whether you are intoxicated. You are not required to take these tests and some attorneys recommend that you politely decline to do so.
Even if you don't take the test, however, the officer can still arrest you. He likely will if he has probable cause to believe you have been driving while intoxicated. After arrest you will usually be asked to submit to a chemical breath or blood test. By driving in Texas, you have already consented to take such a test. You will then generally be booked and your bail will be set.
DUI Court Procedure
Your first court date will generally be the arraignment where the criminal charges are read against you, you are asked to enter your plea (guilty, not guilty, no contest) and you are advised of future court dates. Depending on how your case proceeds, you may have further court appearances, including pre-trial conferences, suppression hearings, and a trial.
For a general overview, see FindLaw's article on DUI Court Procedure.
Administrative License Revocation (ALR)
As noted above, after you are arrested you are usually asked to submit to a chemical breath or blood test. If you refuse or fail (register over a 0.08%) your license will be suspended (administrative license revocation) and the arresting officer may issue you a temporary driver's permit.
You have 15 days to request a hearing through the Texas Department of Public Safety on the suspension. The State Office of Administrative Hearings will conduct the hearing and will determine whether the suspension of your license was valid.
The issues decided at the administrative hearing are generally limited to the following:
- Did the officer have reasonable suspicion to stop you?
- Was there probable cause for the officer to believe you were intoxicated?
- Were you offered the opportunity to provide a breath or blood sample?
- Did you refuse to provide a sample or register over the legal limit?
If the suspension is upheld, you may have the opportunity to appeal the hearing decision.
In some circumstances, you may be able to apply for an occupational license, which allows you to drive to and from work or school. The Texas Department of Public Safety has information as to how to request this type of license, the required items for issuance, and the applicable waiting periods.
The penalties associated with a DWI conviction vary depending on a variety of factors, but even for a basic first offense can include fines of up to $2,000, 3 to 180 days in jail, loss of driver's license up to 1 year, and more. Check out this summary from the Texas Department of Transportation for more information.
Getting an Attorney
A DWI conviction can have far reaching effects on your life beyond the immediate and obvious. It can have significant insurance and even employment implications, in addition to the fines, license suspension, etc. Because of this, it may be a good idea to retain an attorney who specializes in DUI defense.