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Criminal Defense

Houston DWI DUI Lawyer

Being charged with driving while intoxicated is a complex and serious legal matter. A first offense DWI is a misdemeanor in most jurisdictions, but it has severe consequences. A driver is charged with a DWI when a police officer has probable cause to pull him over and reasonable suspicion that the driver is impaired. Probable cause is established by behaviors like speeding, swerving or running red lights. Evidence of impairment is gathered with field sobriety tests and breath or blood samples that show a blood alcohol content (BAC) above .08.

Punishments for Your First DWI Conviction

There are several punishments that come with a first DWI offense. DWI misdemeanors are dealt with more harshly than most other misdemeanor offenses. The punishments vary and are based on the circumstances of a case, but certain punishments are common to most cases. These include:

  • Jail time: Periods of incarceration range from three to 180 days
  • Fines and fees: Fines, known as “surcharges,” can add up to thousands of dollars
  • License revocation: Driving privileges are suspended for six months or longer
  • Personal restrictions: Drug tests, alcohol education classes and home breathalyzers are often required

Additional Penalties For first time DWIs

Other consequences associated with a first DWI conviction can occur outside of direct legal punishments. These can include:

  • Higher insurance rates or difficulty obtaining new insurance
  • Loss of employment or difficulty obtaining new employment
  • Public disapproval or loss of respect among family and friends
  • A DWI cannot be expunged from a criminal record at a later time.

Possible Legal Defenses

It is possible to have some of these penalties reduced or mitigated with the help of an experienced DWI attorney. A DWI lawyer knows which areas of the prosecution's case to scrutinize for inaccuracies, incomplete information or defects. For example, a DWI attorney can demonstrate that the arresting officer did not have probable cause to pull over the defendant's vehicle. If this is proven, the arrest is rendered invalid. The attorney can also show that the arresting officer failed to administer the field sobriety test properly. This can cause the officer's evidence of impairment to be inadmissible in court.

Contact a DWI Attorney in Houston, TX

Only an experienced, qualified DWI attorney has the knowledge and skills to handle a DWI first offense case. To prevent the loss of driving privileges and other negative consequences, it is important to secure legal representation as soon as possible. When a person's future is at stake, there is no room to compromise when choosing an attorney.

Subsequent DWI Offenses

When someone is facing a second or third conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI), selecting an effective Houston-area DWI lawyer can be the difference between spending time in jail and getting on with life. The possibility of a second or third DWI conviction is cause for concern. The charge is serious, and the penalties are real.

DWI Second and Third Offenses

Conviction on a second DWI offense is a Class A misdemeanor. A second offense can result in a jail sentence of at least 30 days and up to one year. The offender can also receive a fine of up to $4,000. Conviction on a third DWI offense is a third-degree felony. An offender can be sent to prison for as much as 10 years and be fined up to $10,000. Even a sentence of probation requires a minimum jail sentence of five days for a second offense and 10 days for a third offense. A second or third DWI offense within 10 years of an initial DWI conviction can also result in serious civil penalties, including revocation of driving privileges for up to two years. Even after the revocation of driving privileges has expired, offenders must pay a reinstatement fee, surcharges and fines in order to obtain a valid driver’s license. Drug and alcohol treatment evaluation, rehabilitation classes or the installation of an ignition interlock device may also be imposed.

Defense Strategies

After proving the existence of a previous DWI, the district attorney must also show that there was probable cause for the traffic stop that resulted in a DWI charge. If a police officer stops someone for an unusual pattern of driving, it must be proved that the erratic driving was due to a blood alcohol level higher than 0.08 percent or the influence of drugs. An experienced DWI attorney may be able to demonstrate that the erratic driving was due to some other cause such as tiredness or physical illness. The lawyer will ensure that a suspect’s constitutional rights have not been violated.

Typical signs of impaired or drunk driving that are routinely detected by police officers include the following:

  • Speeding or driving slowly
  • Weaving or driving at uneven speeds
  • Running a red light or stopping at a green light

Successfully defending a person who has been accused of a DWI requires an experienced lawyer who thoroughly understands the laws and prosecution strategies that will be employed to obtain a conviction.

In Texas, a driver who operates a motorized vehicle in a public place while intoxicated may be charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). Suspects who have a blood alcohol concentration of .08 are also legally intoxicated and may face a DWI.

In many states, DWI and Driving Under the Influence (DUI) are interchangeable. In Texas, however, a DUI charge is based on the state’s “zero tolerance” of underage alcohol consumption. Any individual under the age of 21 who operates a motorized vehicle in a public place with any detectable blood alcohol concentration can be charged with a DUI.

DWI and DUI Punishments

Potential punishments for DWI and DUI are dependent upon a number of factors, including the defendant’s age, the number of the defendant’s offenses, and the amount of evidence against the defendant.

Usually, an individual with a first-time DWI conviction faces a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by 72 hours to six months of jail time, a license suspension between 90 days and one year, and fines up to $2,000, but the penalties increase dramatically for a blood alcohol concentration of .015, as well as each additional DWI conviction. For a second offense, an individual will serve 30 days to one year of jail time, have a license suspended between six months and two years, and be fined up to $4,000. For a third offense, a defendant faces two to 10 years of prison time, a license suspension for six months to two years, and up to $10,000 in fines. Additionally, any individual charged with driving while intoxicated with a passenger 15 years or younger in the vehicle faces 180 days to two years of state jail time and fines up to $10,000.

In contrast, a suspect facing a first-time DUI faces only a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a minimum of 20 hours of community service and a fine of $500.

DWI Defense Strategies

Suspects who understand their legal rights can better prepare their defense. An individual can refuse to take the breathalyzer and blood tests. Although refusal to submit to testing can lead to the suspension of driving privileges for 180 days, without evidence it is much more difficult for a prosecutor to convict a defendant. Additionally, a suspect has the right to refuse to answer any incriminating questions.

Most importantly, DWI cases are time-sensitive. Individuals must request a hearing within 15 days of the incident.

One of the consequences of a DWI conviction is a suspended driver's license. When arrested, a person can choose to submit a breath or blood sample for testing. He can also refuse a test. If the test shows a blood alcohol content (BAC) above the legal limit, the driver loses his license for 90 days if it's his first DWI. If he refuses the test, his license is automatically suspended for at least 180 days. Either way, the driver can expect to lose his license. However, willfully submitting to a breath or blood test results in a shorter suspension period and may result in leniency from the judge when applying for an occupational license.

How Long Will My License be Suspended?

The length of time that a driver's license is suspended depends on a few factors. These factors include the driver's previous driving record, previous DWI convictions, the circumstances of the arrest and the results of the trial.

  • Failing a submitted test: 90 days to one year of suspension if arrested for DWI in the past 10 years.
  • Refusing a test: 180 days to two years of suspension if arrested for DWI in the past 10 years.
  • Suspension upon conviction: 90 days to one year of suspension for first DWI conviction; six months to two years of suspension for subsequent DWI arrests.

What is an Occupational License?

A suspended license can make it impossible to keep a job or perform daily tasks. It's possible to apply for an occupational license to recover limited driving privileges for essential purposes. To apply for this license, the defendant files a petition with their local court. This petition shows the "essential need" that the defendant has for a restricted license. The judge reviews the petition and calls for a hearing to confer with the defendant. At the hearing, the judge reviews the defendant's driving record and takes that into account. If the judge issues the license, he will set specific rules that the defendant must follow when driving.

These restrictions include when, where and why the defendant is allowed to drive. For example, the defendant may only be allowed to drive on certain days of the week and between certain times of the day. There will be restrictions on where the defendant is allowed to drive and what routes he is allowed to take. There may also be restrictions on the reasons that a defendant is allowed to drive.

Sobriety Tests

Those suspected of driving while intoxicated may be put through one of a battery of tests called the Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST). The kinds of tests include Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, One-Legged Stand, and Walk-and-Turn. These tests are used roadside by police officers to determine if suspects have greater blood alcohol concentrations than the legal limit. Failing any of these tests could have serious financial and legal repercussions.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)

The term "nystagmus" refers to a rapid, involuntary side-to-side jerking of the eyes, and the person experiencing the nystagmus is unaware of the rapid movement. The theory of the HGN is that nystagmus becomes more readily pronounced when an individual is intoxicated. A suspect is asked to follow the motion of a pen, a pencil eraser or a fingertip. As the person’s eyes move from side to side, the officer examines each eye for several indications of nystagmus.

One-Legged Stand (OLS)

A suspect is asked to stand with both feet together, keep arms at the side and listen to instructions. The subject must then raise either leg approximately six inches off the ground, pointing his toes out while keeping his legs straight. While looking at the elevated foot, he must count out loud until the officer tells him to stop.

During this test, the officer observes the driver for the following:

  • Swaying while balancing
  • Using arms to balance
  • Hopping or jumping around
  • Putting a foot down

If the officer notes two or more of these, the individual fails the test.

Walk-and-Turn (WAT)

In the WAT test, the suspect must stand with his feet in heel-to-toe position while keeping his arms at his sides. He must listen to the instructions, maintain his position and refrain from walking until he is instructed to do so. This test measures an individual’s ability to follow complex instructions and complete multiple tasks. The suspect must then watch his feet while taking nine heel-to-toe steps along a line and count each step. He also has to turn and walk along the same line in another nine heel-to-toe steps. Officers look for:

  • A lack of balance during instructions
  • Walking before instructions are finished
  • Breaks during walking
  • An inability to touch heel to toe
  • Swerving or inability to remain on the line
  • The need to use arms for balance
  • Loss of balance on turn or inability to turn correctly
  • Taking the wrong number of steps.

Although the scoring of this test is highly subjective, if the officer notices two or more of these behaviors, the driver fails the test.

Defense Strategies

All of these tests are subjective; rely on proper officer training and test administration; and may require mental and physical skills an individual may lack due to medical or physical conditions.

For questions about DWI DUI Laws Houston please contact the Gilligan Law Firm, L.L.P to schedule a FREE consultation at (713) 529-9200.



 

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