As a Lubbock DWI lawyer, I deal with a lot of DWI cases in West Texas. If you have recently been arrested for driving a motor vehicle while intoxicated, you might be feeling uncertain about what is to come. That’s why I wrote this blog — to tell you everything you need to know about will happen with your Lubbock County DWI case.
Tip #1 — You Will Have Two Separate Cases
After you are arrested for drunk driving, you will have two different cases to deal with. The first is your criminal case, which will deal with the DWI charge against you. The second case is your Administration License Revocation (ALR) case, which will deal with your driver’s license suspension.
Your ALR case will be handled by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), which is the agency in charge of issuing and suspending driver licenses. Before your driver’s license is suspended, you have the right to an ALR hearing. I always request a hearing for my clients, not only because if we win, their driver’s license won’t be suspended, but also because I will learn useful information that can help with their criminal case.
Tip #2 — If You Consented To a Blood Test, You Will Be Waiting for Months
If you consented to a blood test when you were arrested, your blood specimen will be sent to a DPS lab for testing. This means you will not have any criminal court or ALR dates for months. These labs get backed up, and there will be a bunch of other tests in line before your specimen. Both of your cases will essentially be on pause until your blood is tested.
Tip #3 — If You Did Not Consent To a Blood Test, You Need To Act Quickly To Protect Your Driver’s License
On the other hand, if you refused to provide a blood specimen or you took a breath test and your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.08% or above, you need to act QUICKLY if you want to avoid a driver’s license suspension. If you test over the legal limit to a breath test or you refuse a BAC test, you only have 15 days to request an ALR hearing. If you do not request a hearing, your license will automatically be suspended and you won’t be able to challenge the suspension.
Keep in mind that if you refused a BAC test and then the police obtained a warrant and took a blood sample, your ALR case will move much more quickly than your criminal case. Your driver’s license can be suspended for 180 days simply for refusing to submit to a BAC test, whereas the District Attorney’s office will wait to file criminal charges until your blood specimen is tested.
Tip #4 — Cases Involving Breath Tests Move Much Faster Than Blood Test Cases
Cases involving breath tests move much more quickly, both through criminal court and ALR. Since the breath test results are immediately available, the District Attorney’s office will be able to file charges sooner. Breath test DWIs are also subject to the 15 day ALR hearing request limit.
Tip #5 — Your Case Will Probably Last for 1-2 Years From the Date of Your DWI Arrest
I always tell my clients to expect that their case will last for 1-2 years from the date they were arrested. That’s just too long to be stressed out about your case that entire time. That’s why it’s so important that you find an attorney that you can trust and who communicates with you. If you have an attorney who keeps you in the loop, you do not need to constantly worry about your case.
Tip #6 — You Have Not Been Charged With DWI Until an Information or Indictment Is Filed
You are not charged with a DWI at the same time you are arrested. To be arrested, the police officers only have to believe they have probable cause that you were driving drunk. After you are arrested, the District Attorney’s office will review your case and decide if there is sufficient evidence to officially charge you with DWI. If they proceed with the case, they will file a formal charge, which is called an indictment for felony cases and an “information” for misdemeanors. This is an important distinction because criminal defense attorneys are not entitled to review the evidence against you, such as police reports, bodycam, video, 911 call, lab reports, etc. until formal charges have been filed.
It’s not uncommon for the District Attorney to formally charge you for fewer offenses than you were originally arrested for. Remember, the police only need probable cause to arrest you for an offense. The District Attorney, however, will have to prove that you committed that offense beyond a reasonable doubt, so if they don’t think there is not enough evidence, they may not charge you with certain offenses even though you were arrested for them.
Tip #7 — You Typically Won’t Go To Court Until Formal DWI Charges Are Filed
Once official charges are filed, your initial court appearance will be scheduled. Make sure to talk to your attorney and ask if you actually need to go to court. If you don’t have an attorney, then as a general rule, you must always go to court.
Your initial court appearance is called an arraignment. This is where the Judge will tell you what you have been officially accused of doing and tell you that you have a right to hire an attorney. If you can’t afford an attorney, the Judge will do a financial inquiry to determine if you qualify for appointed counsel. If the judge asks you if you plead “guilty or not guilty”, then you must answer. You should always plead not guilty at your arraignment.
After you are arraigned, your case will be place on the Announcement Docket. Some counties have a different name for this docket, but they all function in the same way. The Announcement Docket exists for defendants to check in with judges while they are in the process of finding an attorney. The criminal proceeding will not start until you have hired an attorney. Some judges will give you plenty of time to hire an attorney, while other judges will give require you to move more quickly.
Tip #8 — Plea Negotiation Conference Hearings Are Not the Only Time You Can Negotiate
Once you have found an attorney, your case will enter the negotiation stage. Your defense attorney and the prosecutors will meet for a formal plea negotiation conference hearings (PNC) or status conference hearing (STCH). It’s important to understand that the negotiation stage is not the only time your attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor. In fact, the deal offered at this stage is generally not the most favorable.
If you don’t reach an agreement during the negotiation phase, then your case will be scheduled on the court’s Pretrial Conference Hearing Docket (PTCH). During this stage, formal motions will be filed by the defense and prosecutor. Your attorney may file motions to suppress the BAC results, evidence regarding field sobriety tests, or, in some cases, all of the evidence collected after an illegal traffic stop. Other motions that both sides can file include discovery motions, motions to list witnesses, and expert witness designations, among others.
Tip #9 — Most DWI Cases Are Resolved by a Plea Bargain
Most DWI cases end with a guilty plea. However, this does not mean that most DWI cases end with a DWI conviction. Most of the time defendants will accept a plea bargain that the district attorney offers. Only the defendant themselves can decide if they want to take an offer. Your attorney cannot force you to accept an offer you don’t want to accept.
If you accept a plea bargain, the State will allow you to plea guilty to a lesser charge, fewer charges, or the same charge with a lesser sentence. If you agree to a plea bargain, your attorney and the prosecutor will have to get the judge’s approval before you accept. You will then have to appear in court and accept the offer in front of the judge. Even if you plead guilty, first-time DWI offenders rarely receive any jail time. However, you will likely have to pay a fine and may be sentenced to community service.
If you don’t agree to a plea bargain, your case will be set for trial. In these situations, your actual trial can occur years after you are arrested. Some trials can last for months, but most misdemeanor trials take about 2 to 5 days from start to finish.