What is a DWI Charge?
In the State of Texas, DWI stands for Driving While Intoxicated. If a police officer arrests you for a DWI and you ultimately sustain a criminal conviction, you may be facing numerous legal and collateral consequences. You might also incur several administrative penalties, including the loss of your driver’s license for a significant period of time.
Alcohol can severely impact a driver’s ability to safely operate his or her vehicle. This is because alcohol is a depressant and it slows down a driver’s central nervous system. When a driver is under the influence of alcohol, they may exhibit various physical symptoms, including blurred vision. They might also experience limited concentration and delayed reaction time, preventing them from stopping their vehicle in time to avoid a serious crash.
When a driver operates their vehicle while under the influence, they could cause a serious accident that leaves other drivers and their passengers severely injured – or even worse, dead.
If you are currently pending DWI charges, it is essential for you to have knowledgeable and experienced legal representation in your corner for every stage of your criminal case.
A skilled Houston DWI Defense Attorney at The Law Office of Bryan Fagan can help defend you against your pending DWI charge. In some instances, that might mean negotiating a favorable plea deal with the state prosecutor, while at other times, it may mean litigating your case in court and arguing a strong legal defense on your behalf.
No matter your circumstances, we can safeguard your legal rights and ensure that they remain protected while your case is pending in the court system. We can also zealously advocate for your legal interests and help you obtain the best possible result in your criminal DWI case.
For a free initial consultation and case evaluation with an experienced Houston DWI Defense Lawyer, please call 281-810-9760 or contact us online for more information.
DWI Legal Standards in Texas
If a police officer suspects a driver is breaking the law, they can pull the driver over. This is true even if the driver commits a minor traffic violation, such as operating their vehicle with a tail light out, speeding less than 5 miles per hour over the posted speed limit or failing to use their turn signal at the appropriate time. The officer can pull the vehicle over for a minor traffic violation even if their real intention is to see whether or not the driver is intoxicated.
In addition to violating a minor traffic law, the driver might be weaving in and out of traffic or swerving in their own lane while driving. Either of these maneuvers are signs of intoxicated or impaired vehicle operation and a police officer can lawfully stop the driver.
Police officers are also trained to observe various symptoms of alcohol intoxication when they pull drivers over. Telltale signs of alcohol impairment or intoxication include: bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and the smell of alcohol on the driver’s breath.
If an officer suspects a driver has been drinking, they might subject the driver to one or more field sobriety tests. Common tests include the heel-to-toe test, where the driver must walk in a straight line for a certain number of steps, turn around and walk in a straight line back. Another common test is the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, where the police officer observes the driver’s eye movements to determine whether or not they are likely intoxicated.
If an officer develops probable cause to believe the driver operated their vehicle while intoxicated based upon the driver’s poor test performance then the officer can arrest the driver for a DWI. Following the arrest, the officer might also ask the driver to submit to chemical testing, such as a breathalyzer test.
If a breathalyzer test determines the driver had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least 0.08 percent while driving, then the driver is legally intoxicated. Stricter DWI standards apply to commercial vehicle drivers, including tractor-trailer and big rig operators and minor drivers who are under 21 years old. You can still be arrested and convicted of a DWI with a BAC of .08 or lower, so you should not count on a breathalyzer test to get you out of trouble.
If a police officer does arrest you for a DWI, you should never answer any questions about whether you had anything to drink or how much you had to drink. In fact, if you answer these questions, the police officer or a state prosecutor could later use this evidence against you in your criminal case. Instead, you should immediately insist upon your Fifth Amendment right to the presence of legal counsel during police questioning. Before you answer any questions, you should make sure you have a lawyer present with you either on the phone or, better yet, in person.
The Burden of Proof in a Criminal DWI Case
There are two primary parties in a criminal DWI case. The first party is the State of Texas, represented by a state prosecutor. The second party is the defendant or the individual whom the police officer arrested for the DWI.
In any criminal DWI case in Texas, the state prosecutor has the sole legal burden of proof. In fact, the defendant does not even need to testify at trial or prove anything in their case. The state prosecutor must establish all of the necessary legal elements to obtain a conviction against you. Specifically, the prosecutor must demonstrate that you operated your motor vehicle while intoxicated with alcohol.
If the state prosecutor is unable to satisfy their legal burden completely, then your DWI case could be subject to a complete dismissal. If that happens, you cannot receive any penalties and you will not have a criminal conviction on your record.
Obviously, the best way to avoid a DWI conviction is not to incur a criminal charge in the first place. However, if you are charged with a DWI, a lawyer could help you assert a strong legal defense to your charge in court. If the judge or jury accepts your defense at trial, it can prevent the state prosecutor from establishing the legal elements of their case, resulting in a complete dismissal of your criminal charge.
Potential Defenses to a Criminal DWI Charge
In response to a criminal DWI charge, you may be able to raise one or more legal defenses. Your lawyer could assert these defenses on your behalf at your trial. Some of the most common defenses to a Texas DWI charge include the following:
Improper traffic stop — According to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, individuals are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures. To lawfully pull a vehicle over, a police officer must have at least some reasonable suspicion that you violated a traffic law. Even if the minor traffic violation is a pretext for pulling you over, the traffic stop is still a valid one. However, police officers are not allowed to engage in random traffic stops of any kind. If you can demonstrate the police officer stopped your vehicle randomly, you will be able to raise that as a defense to your criminal DWI charge.
Defective testing equipment — Breathalyzer equipment, like other machinery, does not always work properly. Whenever a breathalyzer machine malfunctions, it will not provide an inaccurate reading. If an expert determines the breathalyzer machine was defective at the time you gave a sample, then you will be able to raise that fact as a defense to your criminal DWI charge.
Fifth Amendment violations — The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals against self-incrimination. If a police officer pulls a driver over for a suspected DWI and begins asking them questions, the driver can then assert their right to the presence of legal counsel during questioning. If the officer continues to question the driver, then any subsequent incriminating evidence will be subject to suppression at a criminal trial.
Medical conditions — Medical conditions can sometimes affect a breathalyzer reading or a driver’s performance on a field sobriety test. For example, the driver may suffer from a medical condition that affects their eyesight or balance, preventing them from performing a field sobriety test correctly even while sober. Drivers will be able to use this fact as a defense to their criminal DWI charge.
A Houston DWI defense lawyer at The Law Office of Bryan Fagan can review the facts and circumstances of your DWI arrest with you to determine if you are eligible to argue one of these legal defenses at your criminal court trial. If so, we can advocate a defense on your behalf and pursue a complete dismissal of your DWI case.
Potential Penalties for a Texas DWI Conviction
If you ultimately sustain a conviction on your DWI charge, a sentencing judge will be left to impose the legal penalties in your case.
A first-time DWI offense is a Class B misdemeanor in Texas. If you sustain a conviction on this offense, a judge could impose a maximum of $3,000 monetary fine and/or a maximum jail sentence of six months. In addition, the DMV can suspend your driver’s license.
Judges will increase DWI penalties if an individual is a repeat offender. Those penalties can include higher monetary fines and longer periods of incarceration.
In addition to potential high monetary fines and jail time, a judge might sentence a DWI offender to probation and other consequences as they see fit.
A judge might require a DWI offender to attend counseling and court-ordered alcohol rehabilitation classes. Finally, a judge can order the driver to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle. An ignition interlock device or IID, is a portable breathalyzer device that the driver must blow into each time they get behind the wheel to drive. If the device detects any amount of alcohol on the driver’s breath, the vehicle will not start.
Drivers must also pay installation fees for these devices, as well as routine maintenance costs while the device is present in their vehicle.
Potential Collateral Consequences of a DWI Conviction
In addition to these potential legal penalties upon conviction for a DWI, offenders could experience numerous collateral consequences. If the state prosecutor is able to demonstrate the legal elements of their claim, the driver will have a DWI conviction on his or her permanent record. And this conviction will show up during a public records search.
DWI convictions can make it difficult for people to find and keep their jobs in some circumstances since prospective employers frequently perform criminal background checks on all applicants. This is especially true if an individual is applying for a job as a professional or commercial truck driver.
DWI convictions can also make it difficult for an individual to gain admission to a college, university or other educational institution or program. This is because admissions committees often perform criminal background checks on prospective students prior to making any admissions decisions. If a student is already enrolled at a school and is convicted of a DWI, he or she can risk losing their scholarship money and other financial aid.
At The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we can work to lessen or eliminate the collateral consequences that you might experience from your criminal DWI conviction.
Call an Experienced Houston DWI Defense Lawyer Today
If you have recently incurred criminal DWI charges, it is vital you have a knowledgeable defense lawyer handling your case from the onset. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan can represent you during every stage of your criminal proceedings and aggressively fight for your legal rights!
For a free case evaluation and legal consultation with an experienced Houston DWI Defense Lawyer, please call 281-810-9760 or contact us online for more information.