Your Houston DWI Case: The Basics

You had been so busy all day you hadn't even had a chance to stop to eat lunch. Thank goodness you were meeting your best girlfriend at the Sundance Cinemas at Bayou Place right after work. When you got there she already had a bottle of Pinot Grigio open and waiting for you. You got caught up in talking, ordered another bottle, and ended up missing the movie. At the end of the night, before walking out to your car, you thought about eating something, as you were a bit tipsy, but decided to chance it. Bad decision. Within minutes of getting out of the parking garage you were pulled over and charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). What happens now? What do you do? Here is some basic information to help you navigate your DWI in Space City.

Legal Limits In Texas

According to Texas law, you commit the crime of driving while intoxicated if you are operating a motor vehicle in a public place while having an alcohol content of 0.08% or more or while "not having the normal use of your mental or physical faculties" because of alcohol or drugs.

There are both criminal and administrative penalties for driving while intoxicated, which vary according to a variety of factors, including things like how much alcohol is in your system, whether you have previously been convicted, and whether you are driving with a child passenger.

The Traffic Stop and Arrest

Generally, when a law enforcement officer has reasonable suspicion that you are impaired, he may pull you over to investigate further. Then, you are typically asked to participate in field sobriety tests (tests designed to give the officer additional opportunity to observe your level of intoxication). You are not required to take these tests and you may politely decline. However, be prepared for the officer, if he has probable cause, to arrest you anyway.

Once you have been arrested, the officer will typically ask you to take a chemical test of your breath or blood. In Texas you are deemed to have consented to such testing. The officer does have to advise you orally and in writing of the consequences of refusing this test. This statutory warning form is usually used for this purpose.

As the warning form notes, if you refuse to provide a specimen, the officer "may apply for a warrant authorizing a specimen to be taken from you." Be advised that in Harris County, according to the District Attorney's Office, "No Refusal Weekends" are actually in effect every day. Essentially, under the "No Refusal Initiative," prosecutors and judges are readily available to help streamline and expedite the warrant process. Generally, once the warrant issues, your blood will be drawn.

Booking and Bail

Most likely, the next step in a DWI case will be booking and bail. This is when information about you and the charges against you are entered into the system and some guarantee is made (either with money or a signed promise) that you will return to court.

The Houston City Jail has posted additional information about how to get an individual released. Note that bonds for City Jail may be posted on the first floor of the Herbert W. Gee Municipal Courthouse 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

Court Appearances

Generally, your first court appearance is the arraignment when you are advised of the charges against you, asked for your plea, and advised of upcoming court dates. If you plead guilty, you will proceed to sentencing.

If you plead "not guilty" your case will proceed towards trial. Your next court appearances may include: preliminary hearings, where the judge decides whether there is enough evidence to make you stand trial, pre-trial motions, where the judge typically decides whether certain evidence should be excluded, and trial.

Administrative License Revocation

In addition to, and separate from, the criminal aspects of the case, you will also have to contend with the administrative license revocation (ALR) procedures. Essentially, if you refuse or fail the chemical test, your license will be taken away and you will be presented with a Notice of Suspension/Temporary Driving Permit. The suspension will go into effect in 40 days if you do nothing and will last for between 90 days and 2 years, depending on the circumstances. If you want to contest the suspension, you have only 15 days to request a hearing on the matter, so you must act quickly.

Refer to this summary by the Texas Department of Public Safety for some additional information.

Key Players You Will Likely Encounter

The first folks you will likely meet as part of your Houston DWI are officers from the Houston Police Department, the Harris County Sheriff's Department or the Texas Highway Patrol. Your case will likely be prosecuted by the Harris County District Attorney, and, depending on your financial situation, may be defended by the Harris County Public Defender.

You may spend some time at the Houston Police Department Central Jail at 61 Reisner Street, the Houston Police Department Southeast Jail at 8300 Mykawa Street, or the Harris County Jail at 1200 Baker Street.

Your case will likely be heard at the Harris County Criminal Courts at Law, or if charged as a felony, at the Harris County District Courts.

Attorneys

Being charged with a DWI can be embarrassing and upsetting. A conviction can have serious consequences on all aspects of your life (the Texas DOT provides a brief summary of some of the potential penalties). You may want to consider consulting with a skilled and experienced attorney to help you with either or both the administrative and criminal processes. Check out this FindLaw section for more information about Using a DUI Lawyer.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

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