September 1, 2019, marked the most monumental change in Texas DWI law in decades. These changes will affect everyone who is arrested for or charged with a DWI in Texas. This guide will explain what changed, and how those changes will affect you if you have been arrested for DWI. The first thing everyone should know is that the new DWI laws do not affect people accused of a DWI that happened before September 1, 2019.
In Texas, driving while intoxicated is defined as someone who has lost the normal use of their mental or physical faculties as the result of an intoxicating substance and operates a motor vehicle. That intoxicating substance does not have to be alcohol. Is marijuana an intoxicating substance? Yes, it is. So are lots of other substances. Can a prescribed substance be considered an intoxicating substance? Yes, it can. However, it is not enough for the State to show the mere presence of these intoxicating substances in the accused’s body. They must also show that the person’s mental or physical faculties have been impaired.
How Does The State Prove A DWI?
DWI is an allegation usually proven by three different pieces of evidence. The first is a law enforcement officer’s observation made about the accused’s driving. The next is the performance of the accused on field sobriety tests. The final piece is any blood or breath test that is administered by the arresting agency. Each one of these can be attacked, and if the three pieces of evidence don’t corroborate each other, or don’t agree with each other, an attorney will argue for an acquittal.
The changes that took effect are primarily in the punishment possibilities. It was an old joke in the criminal defense world that you could commit just about any kind of crime in Texas, except for DWI, and still be eligible for deferred adjudication. You could stab your spouse, be charged with Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon or Aggravated Assault Causing Serious Bodily Injury, for example, and you could be given deferred adjudication. However, if you were caught Driving While Intoxicated, you would not be eligible for deferred adjudication.
There is an idea in American criminal law that the punishment should fit the crime. DWI, as it used to exist, violated this principal. It created what are called disparities where someone could actually hurt someone and receive a lesser punishment than someone who merely drove after having too much to drink. As a result, local District Attorney’s offices began working around those disparities. The Bexar County District Attorney’s Office created a program called the Take Responsibility Program. This program allowed people accused of DWI in San Antonio and surrounding areas to receive deferred adjudication for a different charge, an Obstruction of Highway. The Take Responsibility Program allowed people to get deferred, making them eligible to have their cases formally dismissed (although participants were not eligible for expunctions, they could have their records non-disclosed). It also allowed people to avoid the crippling surcharges that are assessed (charged) for DWI convictions. In Guadalupe County, people would sometimes get deferred adjudication for Obstructing a Highway or Reckless Driving. However, in Comal County or Hays County, the State refused to change the charge from DWI to something else. This meant that one significant factor in determining what would happen to your DWI, was where you happened to be pulled over. In between Travis County and Bexar County, someone could receive something like ten different outcomes for engaging in the same behavior. Then the Legislature stepped in and ruined everyone’s fun.
That’s a little harsh. There was good and bad news for people accused of DWI when the Legislature made their big change. The good news is people who get DWI convictions no longer are charged a surcharge to have a license. They also forgave many people who had surcharges on their license but had their license suspended because they could not pay. This was an incredibly positive and progressive step taken by the Texas Legislature. The bad news, however, balances it out.
Texans are now eligible for deferred adjudication on DWI. This seems like a huge step forward. However, the Legislature allowed the State to use a deferred judgment to enhance your next arrest for that same offense. This means that the State is no longer willing to allow people to plead to different charges and is requiring people who want to accept plea bargains to enter into agreements that put a DWI on your record.
What does this mean? It means that once again it makes sense to try DWI cases. In the past, when the District Attorneys were offering deferred adjudication on a non-DWI, accepting their plea bargains contained real benefits that outlived the actual plea bargain. For instance, if you pled to an Obstructing the Highway or Reckless Driving, that Obstructing or Reckless could not be used to enhance your next DWI to a second DWI. Now, once you’ve received deferred on a DWI, a second DWI will be more serious, and a third will be a felony.
Most people believe that once they get their first DWI, they won’t get another. However, no one ever really expects to get a DWI, and it is impossible to predict what circumstances you will encounter in the future. Does this mean that every DWI must be tried? Of course not. In many instances, accepting the deferred will make sense. But you need to think, and talk through with your attorney, strategically all of the implications of accepting a deferred adjudication on a DWI.
Anytime you are accused of a crime you need to hire the lawyer you want to represent you. This lawyer should know how to negotiate with the State and how argue a DWI if it has to go to trial. At The Locke Law Group, we have had hundreds of DWI cases dismissed and we have won many DWI trials. At The Locke Law Group, we will personally meet with you and discuss all of your options. Once we understand your goals we will outline a strategy to achieve those goals. Give us a call so we can start helping you through this stressful situation.
For more information on Important DWI Changes Went Into Effect On September 1, 2019, a free strategy session is your best next step. Get the information and legal answers you’re seeking by calling (210) 229-8300 today.
Call Now For A Free Strategy Session