As we discussed last week, after being arrested for a DWI you become subject to both administrative and criminal penalties. I gave you the run down concerning the administrative side, and this week I will give you some insight into the criminal process.
Unlike the ALR Hearing, the criminal aspect of your DWI case is concerned with your guilt or innocence proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
We will start from the beginning.
Since DWIs are products of warrantless arrests, it is important to examine the legality behind the initial stop and the rise of probable cause to arrest. An officer is permitted to make a traffic stop if he/she has a reasonable suspicion that activity out of the ordinary is or has occurred and that the activity is related to a crime. In other words, the officer must allow a vehicle to remain in motion until he/she has articulable facts to pull that vehicle over. An officer needing to have articulable facts in order to make a traffic stop requires that the officer have more than a hunch or a feeling that a crime is or has taken place.
Reasonable suspicion is a lower burden than probable cause and is more easily met. A suspect's conduct does not have to be actually unlawful in order to give an officer reasonable suspicion. For example, a vehicle weaving within the bounds of their lane of traffic along with fluctuating speed can equal reasonable suspicion. Also, weaving on the road after the officer saw the vehicle pull out of a bar parking lot around closing time may also equal reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop. In sum, probable cause is not the standard for making a traffic stop; it is reasonable suspicion, and that burden is much easier for an officer to meet.
Once an officer has pulled you over and found probable cause for arrest, you will be arrested and taken to the station. Here is where the officer will write-up his report and begins the booking process. Jail personnel compile a medical intake form once a defendant is booked after an arrest. The form indicates whether the defendant appeared to be intoxicated when booked, the defendant's answer when asked whether he is intoxicated, and other potentially relevant medical information.
You will not be released from jail until you have been arraigned. An arraignment is a formal meeting between a judge and a prisoner. The judge informs you of the charge(s), reads you your rights, and advises you of the bail amount. [A court appointed attorney may also be assigned here if the prisoner qualifies.] Arraignments are generally held daily, between 8 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., but can be held at other times to accommodate judges' schedules.
If you bail out of jail, the officers will give you some forms. In those forms, there will be a temporary driving permit. This temporary permit will be valid for 40 days or until your ALR hearing (as previously discussed in the Administrative Process).
Next, the law enforcement agency submits the case to the Intake Unit of the District Attorney's Office for review. [In 2010, intake attorneys reviewed about 40,000 cases]. The intake attorneys' duties include determining that the report is complete and if the evidence can be used at trial. Then they decide if the results of the investigation justify filing criminal charges against the suspect. In DWI cases that involve a blood test, the law enforcement agency usually takes a bit longer to file with the Intake Unit.
If the intake attorneys decide they have a strong enough case against you, it is then filed in a specific court. There are 10 criminal courts in Tarrant County. And once the case is designated into a specific court, your case will be given to a prosecutor. Here is when the adversarial process begins, and your defense attorney will talk to the prosecutor on your behalf to figure out the best available outcome for your future.
A DWI is a class B misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of 6 months in jail and/or $2000. As of last year, a DWI with a breath or blood test resulting in .15 or greater will be enhanced to a class A misdemeanor. Class A misdemeanors have a maximum punishment of 1 year in jail and/or $4000. If you receive a second DWI charge within 10 years of your first, your second DWI will be charged as a class A misdemeanor, regardless if your first charge was class A or B. And if you are charged with a third DWI, it will be enhanced to a 3rd degree felony. The maximum punishment of a third degree felony is 10 years in prison and/or $10,000.
Other conditions of your DWI punishment will most likely include a DWI education class, Drug/Alcohol Evaluations, and attending a Victim Impact Panel. A Victim Impact Panel includes listening to victims of drunk driving and warning others about the dangers of drinking and driving.
Overall, being charged with a DWI is a complicated and intimidating process. Knowing what to expect can help. So can having an experienced attorney fighting on your side. If you've been charged with a DWI, calling the Alband Firm will help with the stressful situation you've found yourself. Give us a call!