The Criminal Prosecution of DWI
In Texas, a first offense DWI is a Class B Misdemeanor that carries a range of punishment of not less than 72 hours or more than 180 days confinement in the county jail, a fine not to exceed $2,000.00 or any combination of fine and jail time. The good news is that most DWI offenders never go back to jail after the night of their arrest. Typically, people convicted of DWI are placed on probation for a period of 12-24 months. As long as the person complied with the terms and conditions of his or her probation, no more jail time occurs.
Do not expect to resolve your DWI case at your first court appearance. Several court appearances usually occur before your case is disposed.
The first time you will be required to go to court is know as a "First Appearance" setting. In Dallas County, the first appearance setting will normally be 40 to 60 days after the date or your arrest. At the first appearance, you will inform the court whether or not you have hired an attorney. If you have hired an attorney then he or she will meet with the prosecutors about your case. Your attorney will then begin the process of requesting copies of any police reports, witness statements, videos and any other evidence in the prosecutor's possession. After that, the court will give you a new court date for your first "announcement" setting. You WILL NOT be required to enter a plea or set your case for trial at the first appearance setting. Typically, you will do no more than sit in the gallery of the court during the first appearance process in Dallas. NOTE: If you hire us, you most likely will not have to go to court for any setting except for a plea setting or a trial setting. We will handle them on your behalf.
Announcement Setting (Usually there are two in McKinney Courts)
The settings immediately following your first appearance are know as "announcement" settings. The first announcement setting is typically 20 to 30 days after your first appearance. The second announcement setting is typically 20 to 30 days after the first announcement setting. The purpose of the announcement setting is just like it sounds, to announce to the court whether you are ready to enter a plea in your DWI case or your are ready to set your case for trial.
Just like your first appearance, you will typically do no more that sit in the gallery of the court during the announcement settings. The Dallas courts give citizens these setting to allow attorneys time to obtain all the discovery materials from the Dallas County District Attorney's Office. The discovery materials are all the police reports, witness' statements, videos and any other evidence that your DWI defense attorney typically will request at your first appearance setting. Because of the volume of criminal cases filed each month in Dallas County, it usually takes the Dallas County prosecutors some time to comply with discovery requests. For this reason, Dallas County Judges usually give defendants two announcement settings to ensure that citizens and their attorneys have enough time to receive and review all of the materials necessary to make an informed decision to set a DWI case for a plea of a trial.
In addition to discovery materials, announcement settings also allow your DWI defense attorney to review all of the documents in the court's file to evaluate them for any procedural or evidentiary defects that may warrant a dismissal of your driving while intoxicated criminal case. After your two announcement settings, and once you have had an adequate opportunity to review all the evidence in your DWI case, the Dallas courts will require you to set your case for a plea setting or a trial setting.
Plea Bargain: A Plea of Guilty
If you decide not to fight your case you will enter a plea bargain agreement with the prosecution. However, before you enter a plea of guilty your attorney should carefully review your case to ensure there are no legal defects or factual problems with the prosecution's case that may warrant a dismissal of the charges. After your attorney has completed this process, he or she should explain the pros and cons of entering a plea of guilty and setting your case for trial. Remember, an attorney cannot tell you to plea guilty or set your case for trial. Doing so is against the professional rules of ethics. A good attorney must carefully explain your options clearly so that you can make the best informed decision possible.
If you do decide to enter a plea of guilty, then you will most likely be assessed a fine, jail term, and possible probation. If you are offered probation then the typical terms and conditions of probation usually include: 1) testing for possible alcohol or drug problems, 2) completion of a 12 hour DWI Education program, 3) mandatory attendance at a 3 hour session of a Victim Impact Panel conducted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and 4) Community Service of between 24 to 100 hours.
Once the judge finds you guilty, a record of your conviction will be made and forwarded to the DPS. A record of your conviction will be maintained by DPS and will also be forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigations so that you can be monitored locally and nationally. A DWI conviction will remain on your record permanently. A conviction for DWI cannot be expunged or Non-Disclosed unless you are pardoned by the Governor or President.
ONLY THE PERSON ACCUSSED can decide whether or not the case goes to trial. If you plan on taking your case to trial you should be sure that the attorney you hire has ACTUAL TRIAL EXPERIENCE in DWI cases. Not all attorneys, even criminal attorneys, have extensive trial experience. Trial skills are hard to learn and nothing beats experience when your future and freedom is at stake.
A good attorney should give you a personal evaluation of your case's strengths and weaknesses. The attorney should explain the legal reasons (if any) and the factual reason why a judge or jury may find you not guilty. MOST IMPORTANTLY, an attorney should never give you a guarantee concerning the outcome of your case. Trials can be won or lost for a multitude of reasons, most of which may not be foreseeable. An attorney's job is to gather all relevant evidence, properly evaluate your case, then to give you his or her professional opinion concerning the possible outcome. Once your attorney gives you this information, then ONLY YOU can decide to proceed with trial or not.
It is important to note that in most DWI cases the punishment is not increased if you elect to go to trial. In fact, judges and/or juries typically give less punishment if you are found guilty than what the prosecution offers for a plea bargain. The reason for this is because with a trial both the judge and the jury will be fully aware of the facts and circumstances surrounding your accusation. In a plea bargain agreement, the facts are not disclosed except under limited circumstances.
Expunction of your Record--Clearing your name
If you plea guilty then you will have a DWI conviction on your record for the rest of your life. There is NO 5, 7, or 20 year rule that would allow someone to remove a DWI conviction off his or her record. However, if your case is dismissed by the State or if you are found NOT GUILTY then you have a right to have the DWI arrest erased from your record. The process for clearing your record includes filing a Expunction motion with the District Court, obtaining an expunction order from the court, and then sending the expunction order to local and federal law enforcement agencies to permanently erase all record of the DWI arrest from your record.
For a free, no-obligation review of your Dallas DWI case, call or e-mail our office for an appointment. We look forward to meeting you to answer your questions about DWI and give you the information you need to guide you through this difficult time.