Driving while intoxicated is a serious offense in Texas. A driver who operates a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher risks being arrested and face DWI charges. The term DWI refers to intoxication from both alcohol and other substances. A DWI arrest is unique since it attracts two separate legal proceedings.
The administrative hearing is held to determine whether to suspend your driving license and the criminal proceeding is where you face jail time and fines upon conviction. The legal process surrounding a DWI trial could be intimidating and complicated, especially for first-time offenders. Therefore, seeking legal guidance is crucial. At Fort Worth DWI Defense Lawyer, we will work with you to ensure you understand and navigate the charges.
Overview of DWI in Texas
Facing a DWI arrest and charge is traumatizing. Drunk driving puts you and other road users at risk of harm. This is because a drunk driver's focus and driving conduct are impaired by alcohol or other drugs. Traffic officers are always on the lookout for drunk drivers, and they identify them by:
- Eleatic change of lanes
- Over speeding
- No headlights at night
- Failure to obey traffic signals and other vehicles
- Swerving in and out of lanes
When you exhibit any of the above behaviors, the officers will have a reason to stop your car to do more investigations on drunk driving. However, at DWI checkpoints, the police will not have to check out for these signs. They have a right to stop you and note your reaction.
If a traffic officer believes that you may be intoxicated, they could perform a field sobriety test by doing either of the following:
- The police could ask you to take nine steps forward and backward and walk in a straight line. The walk and turn test is aimed at checking your ability to follow directions.
- The police officers test your balance and coordination by using the one-leg stand. If you cannot balance your body, you could be intoxicated.
- Horizontal gaze. An officer moves an object in front of your eyes, and if you can't follow the item, they could believe that you are drunk.
You have the right to refuse the field sobriety test. However, the refusal to take the tests may have legal consequences.
Besides the field sobriety test, police officers in Texas may ask you to submit to a blood or breath test to establish your level of intoxication. The blood test is more invasive, and the results are more reliable compared to the Breathalyzer test. Failing to take the chemical tests attracts up to two years of mandatory license suspension.
After these steps are carried out, and the police officers reasonably believe that you were intoxicated, you will be arrested. On reaching the station, you will be booked in awaiting trial or other outcomes of the situation.
DWI Trial in Texas
During the trial, you have a chance to defend yourself and be heard by the jury. However, Texas rules of evidence govern the type of evidence that the jury will listen to in your case. Choosing the kind of evidence to present during your trial to challenge the evidence against you is one of the ways that your DWI attorney could guide you.
When you face charges for driving while intoxicated in Texas, every case is treated differently. The verdict and outcome of your DWI case dramatically depend on the people who show up in the jury. The court holds several jury trials, and the defense is required to attend all of them. However, you do not need to be there. Your DWI defense attorney can represent you.
DWI trials last for several days, while some could end in a day. Our trial significantly depends on whether or not you took the chemical tests. This is because most cases of driving while intoxicated are based on the results of your chemical tests. Sometimes the trial could be rescheduled, especially when potential jurors are not available. The following are steps taken in a Texas DWI trial:
Selection of the Jury
The selection of a jury is the first step in the trial phase of all cases in Texas. When the jury members are selected, both the prosecution and defense will question the jurors related to the case before the trial begins. Depending on the DWI charges' nature, each side will have a certain number of peremptory strikes. After the jury selection, a potential member can be removed if, for a particular reason, they state a reason to be impartial to the hearing of the case. The selection of the jury is the most crucial phase of your DWI trial.
Dealing with Pretrial Matters
Before your case is tried, the prosecution and defense could submit and gather evidence to be presented before the jury. Your attorney could help you file some pretrial motions that could be beneficial to your case:
- Motion to dismiss your case for lack of a probable cause of arrest. Several reasons could cause a traffic officer to stop you and make a DWI arrest. If you are not following traffic rules, were swerving, and over speeding, there may be a probable cause for arrest. However, some officers will arrest you without a valid reason. Filing a motion to dismiss your case for lack of a probable cause of arrest is one of the moves you can make during the retrial period of your case.
- Motion to strike prior offenses. During the pretrial period, you have a chance to file a motion to strike out prior convictions from your case. DWI is a priorable offense where past convictions affect your case. If your motion is granted, you will not face a harsh penalty after a conviction.
- Motion to exclude testimony. On your request in the pretrial period, the court could order a witness to be excluded to avoid listening in on other witnesses' testimonies. However, this motion cannot exclude testimony from a victim of your crime or a person whose testimony is significant in the case.
- Motion to suppress the evidence presented by the prosecution. A DWI criminal case involves evidence that is collected before and after your arrest. A motion to suppress evidence is a great tool you can use to defend yourself against the charges. Evidence that is collected without following the right procedure must be excluded in the trial. However, you must have a legal footing to prove that the evidence. Failure to provide you with a Miranda during the arrest could be a ground for seeking suppression of evidence.
After all housekeeping matters are dealt with, and the selected jury is seated, each side is allowed to make an opening statement. The prosecution makes their statement first, and it is a roadmap that directs the jury to the evidence presented throughout the trial. The prosecution will mostly state the crime you face charges and how they intend to prove your guilt under the Texas Penal Code.
After the prosecution has presented their opening statement and the district attorney is through, the defense could give their opening point. However, you could opt to waive the opening statement and do it when the defense is called upon to present their evidence.
Presentation of Evidence by the State
Under Texas Penal Code, you commit DWI's offense when you operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated. The term intoxication is established if your mental conduct is impaired by alcohol or your BAC exceeds the 0.08% legal limit. The definition of intoxication provides the prosecutor with the necessary information to build a case against you.
The State needs to convince the jury that your BAC was more than 0.08%, or your conduct was impaired. The evidence brought against you at the trial will depend on the prosecutor's angle to pursue your case. There are no specific rules in Texas that indicate whether the evidence presented in a DWI case is sufficient for a conviction. Therefore, guidance from a competent attorney is essential common evidence that is brought against you in a Texas DWI trial include:
- Results of the sobriety test. The testimony relating to your field sobriety test is a crucial element of your trial. Since the sobriety tests are all about coordination, the arresting officer will testify on your general conduct. Sometimes a video of the tests may be played to the jury.
- Results of your chemical tests. The results of your blood and breath tests are often the most substantial pieces of evidence for a drunk driving trial. If the results exceed the legal limit of 0.08% BAC, the evidence could be convincing that you were drunk driving. However, the prosecution does not merely present the evidence without additional proof. It must be clear that the samples and tests were taken in the right way.
- Conclusions from experts. Not all DWI cases involve the use of alcohol. Driving under the influence of narcotics and over the counter medications could attract DWI charges since there is no specific measure to quantify the concentration of drugs causing intoxication. Drug experts are used. A DRE in Texas is an officer who has additional knowledge of recognizing signs of impairment from drugs. Testimony from these experts can be presented during your trial.
- Eyewitness testimony. Most DWI trials are dominated by testimonies from a defendant and law enforcement. However, some cases have independent third party witnesses who were present when the arrest occurred. A prosecutor can call out a driver driving near you to give an account of your reckless driving.
- Personal statements. Your words matter in a trial. Admitting to taking drugs or alcohol before driving can be used against you in the trial. Most officers will interrogate you before the arrest. You can avoid making incriminating statements by ensuring your attorney is present before you answer any questions.
Defense Case in Chief
The burden of proof rests on the prosecution to establish your guilt for DWI beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense side is under no obligation to prevent evidence or testimonies during the trial. However, some defense testimonies could help significantly in your case. You and your DWI attorney will agree on how to proceed with the trial. You can decide to give your account of what happened during the arrest. You could also have witnesses who can testify on the number of alcoholic beverages consumed. When the defense is called upon, your attorney could take different approaches to different pieces of evidence, including:
Challenge the Accuracy of the State's Evidence.
Different pieces of evidence are presented by the prosecution to establish that you were driving while intoxicated. Your attorney may try to discredit the evidence by challenging the results of your chemical; tests. The chemical tests are the most substantial pieces of evidence in every DWI case. If you could create doubt in these results' accuracy, you will be a step forward to fighting the charges. You could also offer alternative explanations for your BAC if your case is based on a BAC which exceeds the legal limit.
Before you are arrested for DWI, the officers will observe your general conduct. Sometimes their inferences are not correct, and you can dispute their observations by giving alternative explanations for their observation.
Seeking to Exclude Particular Evidence.
Several things could go wrong during an arrest for DWI in Texas. The arresting officers are expected to read you a Miranda and respect all your rights while carrying out the arrest. Even though failure to submit to chemical tests has legal consequences, you have the liberty to refuse the tests. You can seek to exclude evidence that was obtained illegally from your case.
Presenting Alternative Evidence
Even when you are not obliged to present evidence during the DWI trial, you can include testimony that directly combats the allegations that you were intoxicated. You can argue that you did not drink before driving. You could also give alternative evidence, such as other reasons that could raise your blood alcohol content. If you are facing charges for DWI in Texas, guidance from a DWI attorney is crucial.
The jury charge is an integral part of the trial where the jury deliberates on the evidence and arguments presented. The jury will then submit a sample of their version of the case and ensure prosecution and defense agree. The judge explains the legal principles that govern your case. After the judge instructs the jury on the law, the attorneys can utilize the charge to make closing statements.
After the jury charge, closing statements are made from both sides of the case. Since the State has the burden of rove to establish your guilt, the prosecutor is always the first to make opening and closing statements. Closing statements are a summation of testimonies and all evidence in the DWI case.
Once closing statements are made, the jury retires to a private room for deliberation. The jurors will then vote on the verdict of guilty or not guilty. Whether the vote is guilty or not guilty must be unanimous. If the jury cannot come up with a verdict, your case may have to be heard by a different jury.
Acquittal and Conviction
If the prosecution does not convince the jury of your guilt for driving while intoxicated, your charges could be dismissed. Being acquitted of the charges and avoiding a conviction is the primary goal of any DWI case tries in Texas. Before the trial begins, you have the liberty to choose whether the jury or judge should assess your penalties. If the judge or jury finds you guilty of the crime, you will face a suitable punishment.
The punishment you face after a conviction for DWI in Texas depends on the nature of your charges and your criminal history. Legal penalties for a DWI include:
An adult who faces DWI charges is charged with a Class B misdemeanor. A conviction for the offense is punishable by a prison sentence of up to six months. Additionally, your driver's license will be suspended for up to one year.
Even when you are acquitted, you can face a license suspension if your BAC exceeded the legal limit. A suspension of your driving privileges for a first offense is not mandatory. You will have up to 15 days to request a hearing where you will challenge the suspension. Fines of up to $500 and informal probation could also accompany a conviction for DWI.
A second DWI is a Class A misdemeanor under Texas criminal law. A conviction for a second offense attracts a one-year jail sentence and fines of up to $2,000. Besides, your driver's license will be suspended for 18 months. After the period of suspension elapses, you will have to pay $100 to regain the license.
If you are arrested and charged with a third DWI, the crime is treated as a felony. After a conviction, the crime attracts a jail sentence not exceeding ten years and up to $10,000
DWI with a Minor in the Vehicle
When you drive while intoxicated with a child younger than 15 years in Texas, you will face a two-year jail sentence and court fines amounting to $10,000.
Benefits of DWI Trials in Texas
When you are arrested and charged with DWI in Texas, there are different options you could explore. Sometimes defendants are intimidated by the court process and decide to plead guilty to the charges. However, pleading guilty is a mistake since you will automatically face the harsh penalties that accompany a conviction.
Alternatively, defendants who want to avoid the trial could try to enter a resolution with the prosecutor. In this case, our attorney attempts to have your charges reduced. However, you may have to plead guilty for a less severe offense. When you decide to let your case go to trial, you will have an opportunity to defend yourself for the charges' possible dismissal. A DWI trial is a good option for your case since:
- There is a high legal standard — When you go to trial, your attorney will always advise you to plead not guilty. The prosecutor will have the burden to prove all elements of your case without a reasonable doubt. Even when your BAC exceeds the legal limit, you will not necessarily face a conviction.
- Types of DWI trials — When you choose to take your DWI to trial, you have different options to explore. You can choose whether to let the judge or jury give your verdict. Accepting a plea bargain to plead guilty is a way of accepting whatever sentence that is handed to you.
- You have a chance to negotiate — Most DWI cases in Texas settle in the pretrial period, where your attorney can negotiate a plea deal without negotiation. However, allowing your case to go to trial gives you a chance to challenge the evidence brought against you. With guidance from a competent defense lawyer, you can argue your case to ensure you face lesser penalties or have your case dismissed.
Find a DWI Defense Lawyer Near Me
Driving while intoxicated can result in catastrophic accidents and serious injuries. However, an accident doesn't need to occur for your life to be affected by drunk driving. You can face an arrest and conviction since DWI is a crime. The consequences of a DWI conviction in Texas are harsh and penalties could be in the form of jail time, fines, and license suspension.
Before you are convicted, you face a trial where you can defend your case to avoid the life-changing penalties. If you or your loved one is facing DWI charges, you need to contact an expert from the Fort Worth DWI Defense Lawyer. Our group of top-notch attorneys has helped clients from Fort Worth, Texas, ensure the best outcome in their trial. Call us today at 817-470-2128 and allow us to guide you through the case.