When you violate state laws set to prevent driving while intoxicated, you may attract severe penalties, including spending time in jail and having a permanent criminal record. Since most DWI offenders are unaware of an impending risk of facing arrest, it is always advisable to avoid handling a vehicle after consuming alcohol or any other mind-altering drug. You may expose yourself to arrest or even severe injuries. However, sometimes life events happen spontaneously, creating scenarios that would have you operate your vehicle when intoxicated.
Upon facing arrest, you may be stressed out by the different experiences you face, especially if it is your first time undergoing such a process. Nevertheless, understanding the criminal process that follows your apprehension plays a significant role in providing all the necessary information and calming you down. You will be aware of the reason for each procedure. Hiring an experienced DWI lawyer soon after facing DWI charges will also ensure that you receive all the help you need to meet all the legal processes set out after the arrest. At the Fort Worth DWI Defense Lawyer, we partner with our clients in Fort Worth, to prepare persuasive defenses for presentation during the trial to ensure you do not face an unfair legal process. Moreover, our highly experienced team will support you throughout the criminal process after a DWI arrest to help you combat all challenges you face along the way for a positive outcome.
The DWI Criminal Procedure
Like any other legal process, several rules govern the procedure to be followed by relevant officers soon after your arrest. The existence of a criminal procedure ensures that you undergo a fair process that does not undermine your constitutional rights, despite being caught in unlawful practices. Moreover, the process is set to help you provide all necessary information required for trial procedurally, to ensure that you are documented and that you receive legal representation promptly.
Depending on the type of DWI offense you face arrest for, you do not have to undergo all the discussed processes below, especially if you are a first time offender. Therefore, your defense attorney will guide you throughout the criminal procedure to help you make all necessary preparations before the next set event. The criminal process involves:
Any criminal procedure begins with arrest, whereby an officer develops probable cause to apprehend you and take you to the local police station. Typically, a DWI arrest will happen on the roads and highways because of the nature of the crime, which involves driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Once a police officer stops you on the road, he/she needs a probable cause to arrest you, based on the existing statutes that provide for DWI offenses. In this case, driving with a Blood Alcohol Content of up to 0.08% or more is a violation of section 49.04 of the Texas Penal Code. Consequently, the officer will have to determine whether you have met this threshold by issuing some tests.
The first and most common type of test is a field sobriety test that involves engaging in basic mind-body coordination exercises to determine whether you are fit to handle a vehicle. Thus, the officer may issue several instructions like walking in a straight line for a short distance, performing basic balance exercises, or even answering simple logic questions to test the level of intoxication he/she suspects of you.
However, while field sobriety tests are acceptable for officers to use, they are not an accurate basis to determine whether you are intoxicated. As a result, you may also undergo a breathalyzer test that records your blood alcohol content by measuring the chemical levels present in your breath. When conducting this test, the officer will direct you to blow directly into the breathalyzer machine, and after that, record your BAC level. Usually, if your levels fall above the recommended levels, it will be enough probable cause to arrest you.
The officer may also opt for a blood test, especially where he/she suspects you of using other drugs apart from alcohol. Sometimes, the blood tests may take some time to show results, including days after your arrest. Therefore, they are used to confirm that the arrest made was lawful, especially where you fail a field sobriety test but have low BAC readings. Soon after the arrest, the officer will transport you to the nearest station for the next process.
The Booking Process
Upon arrival at the police station, you are set to participate in a series of activities that encompass a booking process. The procedure helps collect all your necessary personal information for record-keeping as you prepare to face the subsequent proceedings. A booking process does not take long and is often complete within the first few minutes to an hour after arriving at the police. Some of the information collected by the booking officers include:
- Your mugshot
- Your fingerprints
- Your official name
- Home address
- Phone number
The officers at the station will also ensure that they search for any contraband material that you may be tempted to use in the cell, especially if you are arrested for suspected intoxication using drugs. You will also hand over your phone, car keys, and any other valuables for safekeeping until you are ready for release.
Moreover, the booking officer will also conduct a background search during the booking process to determine whether you are a first time or a repeat offender. The information obtained from your records may be pivotal to your case, mainly because repeat offenses will attract more severe outcomes in punishment than first-time offenses. Despite what the booking officer finds in your records, it is essential to remain calm and wait for an opportunity to call your defense lawyer, who will take on your case and help you handle any possible challenges with the charges you face.
Posting Bail to Secure Release
The completion of the booking process lets you get in touch with your defense attorney as you wait for your bail hearing to secure your release from jail. Paying bail to secure release is an accessible alternative to remaining in jail until your trial begins, especially if your DWI offense was minor. Thus, bail is an amount you pay as an assurance to the judge that you will be present for all proceedings.
Usually, your bail hearing should be set within twenty-four to thirty-six hours after an arrest, to ensure that you are not detained for longer than necessary. Therefore, contact your lawyer as soon as you can set you on the right track to organize for posting bail.
Once you are ready for your bail hearing, you will present yourself before the judge, who will ask you some questions regarding the circumstances that led to your arrest. You should note that having a lawyer present is necessary, as the judge will indirectly pose these questions to you through your lawyer. Additionally, your lawyer will be helpful in finding a reliable bail bond agent, especially if you cannot afford the set bail fees immediately. We are also happy to help you contact a close loved one who may offer monetary support in financing the bail.
Once the judge determines that your DWI offense did not result in any serious harm or death, he/she will set a reasonable bail amount for release. With the help of your defense lawyer, you will make payments and sign documents to commit yourself to show up for all court appearances.
Once you are released from jail upon posting bail, the next process involves appearing for arraignment in court, where the charges you face will be read out to you, to pave the way for a plea taking. Usually, you will learn of the court arraignment date during your release from jail. Alternatively, you may receive mail to notify you of the arraignment date, depending on the backlog of DWI cases to be heard during that period. Consequently, you may wait for up to six months before your arraignment as the judges and juries finish up on previous cases that take some time to clear.
One your arraignment date arrives, you will have to listen to the charges and take a plea afterward, either pleading guilty or not guilty. We recommend having your DWI defense lawyer present to help you brush off any intimidation that may make you plead guilty. The main reason you want to avoid making a guilty or no contest plea is that it will automatically register your offense in the criminal record. Hence, with your lawyer present, you will be able to take a firm stand and plea not guilty to allow the next processes to begin.
When the judge records your plea of not guilty, he/she will set the next date available to proceed with hearings and issue you with a conditional release. The requirements may make it necessary to install an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) that requires you to blow into a fixed breathalyzer before your car ignition starts. If the breathalyzer records a higher BAC level than stipulated, your vehicle will not start, and the records will be kept for future reference.
Additionally, you may have to subject yourself to random drug and alcohol tests to satisfy the judge's orders, even as you await trial. We recommend following these conditions seriously until the next date in court, as the judge will bring them under review to determine whether you disregarded any instructions. If so, you will inevitably face stern punishment and scrutiny from the judge, even before an official trial begins.
Plea Bargain Process
In some instances, the state prosecutor may liaise with your defense attorney to find alternative solutions for your case instead of going to trial. It is not uncommon for the prosecutor to propose a plea deal that comes with consequences if not discerned correctly by your lawyer. A plea deal often encompasses you pleading guilty for the DWI offense, in exchange for significantly lower charges. While such an arrangement may appear advantageous at first, a good DWI defense lawyer will tell you that the cons outweigh the pros, mainly because you will still have a permanent criminal record for your offense. With such a file, you may experience additional difficulties securing a job, renting a home, or even applying for loans, among other things.
We recommend indulging in careful deliberation before accepting the prosecutor's deal. He/she is more interested in clearing the case quickly and is not invested in your life after the trial. With an experienced lawyer by your side, you can proceed with your matter to trial confidently, and secure an unconditional release.
A preliminary hearing is a court process that requires the judge to determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed with a judge and jury trial. The hearing is exclusive to offenders to face DWI charges amounting to a felony, based on the severity of the offense. For example, if your DWI leads to a victim's death, you will have to undergo a preliminary hearing that allows the judge to analyze the evidence presented by the prosecutor to clear the matter for trial.
If the presented evidence is insufficient, the judge will dismiss your case. It will not satisfy the requirements of any criminal trial requiring proof beyond any reasonable doubt before convicting a suspected offender.
Pre-Trial Motion Hearings
An essential requirement for all criminal cases is that each party must present all evidence they intend to use in the trial stage, to allow each party a chance to make adequate preparations. Therefore, once the prosecutor presents all evidential sources before the judge, your lawyer can use a pre-trial motion to suppress and challenge the prosecutor to explain how such sources of evidence were obtained. Typically, your defense lawyer has to have convincing reasons as to why he/she contests the prosecutor's methods of obtaining evidence, to avoid making arbitrary statements that may prejudice you against the prosecutor and the court.
Therefore, if you and your defense lawyer have reasonable suspicion of the prosecutor's sources of evidence, it is vital to use the pre-trial motion to ensure that the prosecutor has all irrelevant and unlawfully sourced evidence marked off before trial.
The Trial Stage
Facing trial is the most crucial procedure in the criminal process. The trial stage is where your lawyer gets to counter the prosecution's statements and provides your evidence and defenses to ensure that you receive a favorable verdict for your case. Most trial cases in Texas will have your defense lawyer present your case before a judge and jury promotes a fair decision-making process.
Firstly, the trial begins with opening statements from the prosecutor and your defense attorney. The comments should encompass a clear outline of all points of the argument you intend to present before the court. The prosecutor should submit his/her opening remarks first, as he/she acts on behalf of the state, and is responsible for presenting the case against you. Afterward, your lawyer then presents an opening statement that captures all necessary details for your trial, while countering the prosecutor's remarks. The opening statement stage should not take long because it only summarizes what you intend to prove during the actual trial process.
After the judge records statements from both sides, the prosecutor gets to start his/her trial by presenting all elements of your DWI offense. The prosecution team should ensure that they show evidence that proves your involvement in each detail of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, for a substantial case build-up. Therefore, the prosecutor will give all data collected from your breathalyzer and blood test, police reports that mention all circumstances before and after an arrest, and testimonies from witnesses present during your arrest. Sometimes, the prosecutor may also provide video footage from surveillance cameras to try and prove your intoxicated demeanor as you took on the different tests.
Your defense lawyer will then present counter-arguments that counter these sources of evidence, including cross-examination of the prosecutor's witnesses, providing witness statements, and questioning the validity of the BAC test results. Your lawyer's main aim will be to examine the prosecutor's arguments and subject the jury to reasonable doubt in considering some of the evidence presented. Moreover, it is at this point that your lawyer offers persuasive legal defenses that will challenge the prosecutor's claims and provide an excellent opportunity for the jury to reconsider some events and circumstances laid out by the prosecutor.
The judge and jury will then request some deliberation time, where they will weigh the evidence presented by both sides before rendering their verdict. Depending on the persuasive defenses presented by your lawyer, you may receive an acquittal of charges, meaning that you will be released unconditionally.
However, sometimes the prosecutor succeeds in presenting strong arguments, meaning that you will have to face sentencing for your DWI offense. The judge will set a date for the sentencing hearing to avail you enough time to prepare.
The Sentencing Hearing
If the jury finds you guilty of a DWI offense, you will face a sentencing hearing, where the judge issues punishment depending on the nature of your crime, and whether you are a repeat offender. You may also be given some minutes to present a mitigating statement that could reduce the severity of punishment. Afterward, you will receive penalties as directed under section 49.04 of the Penal Code.
The punishments you receive from a DWI offense depend on the class your offense falls, whether you have faced similar charges in the past, and whether you are under twenty-one years. If you are a minor under twenty-one years, you may receive penalties including a loss of driving privileges, mandatory community service, probation, and fine impositions.
When charged as an adult, your penalties will be more significant, especially because you are fully responsible for your safety on the road. Consequently, as a first-time offender, you will pay fines of up to $2000 or serve a jail sentence of up to six months. The judge may also consider ordering to install an Ignition Interlock Device, to track your progress in recovering from drunk driving. Lastly, you may also have to undergo compulsory DWI classes, where you will learn about the dangers of drunk driving, the rules you are expected to observe while driving, and how to find solutions to alcoholic addiction, among other remedies.
For a second DWI offense, the judge is likely to impose harsher penalties, to deter you from engaging in DWI offenses. Consequently, a second DWI offense attracts a jail sentence that may last between thirty days to twelve months. Moreover, you may also have to make fine payments of up to $4000 as an alternative punishment for the second DWI crime. The judge is also at liberty to impose both punishments concurrently, especially if several aggravating factors were present in your case.
If you faced charges for a third DWI offense, the sentences will be enhanced significantly, as a third and subsequent violation becomes priorable, meaning that the judge will consider all previous DWI violations to impose a punishment accordingly. As a result, a third DWI may result in a state prison sentence lasting for up to ten years, or a fine payment of up to $10,000. On top of this, you will have to install an Ignition Interlock Device and attend mandatory DWI classes.
Having your defense lawyer present throughout these stages will assure you of a good trial outcome, as you get to work closely and make adequate preparations to face charges.
Contact a DWI Defense Lawyer Near Me
A DWI arrest may present significant challenges and consequences, primarily if your offense resulted in severe injury or death. You need to understand what comes after an arrest, as you will reduce anxiety and work to prepare for each process in advance. With the help of the Fort Worth DWI Defense Lawyer, your criminal procedure will be easier to handle, thanks to our skilled and highly experienced team that ensures you receive the best legal services in Fort Worth, Texas. Call us today at 817-470-2128 for help with any DWI charges.