By: Mark Diaz
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Why You Need a Galveston DWI Lawyer If Charged With Drunk Driving
It is not difficult to think of reasons people avoid retaining legal counsel for a Texas drunk driving case. Coming up with GOOD ones, however, is a challenge. Plenty will blame cost, while others believe they can go it alone when handling their defense. Plus, far too many individuals underestimate the severity of the charges for violating Texas’ statute on Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). To debunk this misconception, consider the punishment for a first-time drunk driving conviction:
- DWI is a Class B Misdemeanor that includes a mandatory minimum sentence of three days in jail. A judge could order up to the maximum of 180 days in jail and a fine of $2,000 and an additional statutory fine of $3000.
- Your driver’s license could be suspended for up to one year.
- To get your license back, you must pay an annual fee for three years to retain it, for a total cost of up to $6,000.
This description of the harsh penalties should be enough to convince you why you need a Galveston DWI lawyer if charged with drunk driving. However, consider another point: You are up against an experienced prosecutor who knows the laws, the process, and what it takes to get a conviction. To counter these efforts and defend your rights, you will need an attorney’s help with the following important tasks.
Contest the Prosecution’s Case-in-Chief
In any Texas criminal case, the burden is on the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. The prosecutor attempts to meet this standard by presenting evidence of the essential elements of the offense; in a DWI case, the prosecutor must have evidence that:
- You were operating a motor vehicle.
- You were in a public place.
- You were intoxicated.
As the prosecution is presenting this evidence, your DWI lawyer will have the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and exhibits. While there may be grounds to contest #1 and #2, some individuals arrested for drunk driving might dispute #3 based upon the specific definition: To prove “intoxicated,” the prosecutor must show that you:
- Had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more as measured by a blood, breath, or urine test.
- Did not have normal use of your mental or physical faculties due to consumption of alcohol or a controlled substance.
If the drunk driving arrest was based upon your BAC, your attorney could challenge various aspects of the chemical test. For DWIs due to intoxication, the strategy might be disputing officers’ subjective opinions of your impairment level.
Once the prosecutor rests, it is your turn to question witnesses and introduce exhibits that favor your position. There may be facts or legal issues that were not addressed during the government’s case-in-chief, so you will get the opportunity to make sure the court considers them as part of your defense. Some common strategies to fight DWI charges include:
Fight the Roadside Stop: Civil rights arguments may enter the picture based upon the circumstances under which you were pulled over. Police must have a reasonable suspicion that you are drunk driving before they can stop you; evidence of speeding, a traffic violation, or erratic driving will usually satisfy this requirement. Once they pull you over, officers must have probable cause to arrest you for DWI. Examples of probable cause include:
- Slurred speech.
- The odor of alcohol.
- Bloodshot eyes.
- Clumsy gestures.
Challenge Field Sobriety Tests: In some cases, officers will request that you perform tests of physical skill and mental agility to establish probable cause for an arrest. The most common standardized field sobriety tests include:
- The One-Legged Stand, which measures balance.
- Walk-and-Turn, a test of your mental ability to follow directions and physical ability to perform the test.
- The Horizontal Nystagmus Test, which assesses your focus and vision.
There are multiple opportunities to fight drunk driving charges based upon field sobriety tests, such as through evidence of poor weather conditions, low lighting, and other factors that impact your performance.
Contest BAC Evidence: You might assume that you cannot beat drunk driving charges when science is behind your arrest, but this is a misconception. It is possible to dispute BAC test results on such grounds as:
- Faulty breathalyzer device.
- Broken chain of custody with test specimens.
- Failure to calibrate or inspect the breathalyzer.
- Lack of credentials or training of the operator.
- Improper blood draw procedures.
In addition, your drunk driving attorney may also develop a strategy around a test that was obtained in violation of your rights, such as after you refused under the Texas implied consent law.
Pursue Alternative Strategies
Your situation may seem grim when you think the prosecutor has solid evidence and your defense options are weak. However, even when you cannot beat DWI charges entirely, you might be able to work out a strategy to minimize the impact.
- For a first-time DWI, you may qualify for Deferred Adjudication, which is similar to what you think of as probation. By pleading guilty and completing the terms set by the court, you can avoid having a drunk driving conviction on your record.
- In some cases, you might work out an agreement with the prosecutor to have the charges reduced to Obstruction of a Highway or Reckless Driving. The penalties for these misdemeanors mean a lower fine and less jail time as compared to a DWI; plus, you could keep your driver’s license.
Since the Texas law on Deferred Adjudication went into effect in 2019, fewer people rely on this strategy.
- With respect to the potential driver’s license suspension for drunk driving, you might also seek a hardship license as an alternative strategy. A conviction would still be on your record, and you cannot take this route after the first 30 days of the initial suspension period have lapsed. However, you would at least be able to drive to work and under other limited circumstances.
Assistance with Complex Drunk Driving Charges
A Galveston DWI lawyer is essential for many of the defense tasks for basic drunk driving charges, but retaining legal representation is even more critical for complex cases. The stakes are higher and the potential punishment is harsher under certain circumstances:
Subsequent DWIs: If you were arrested for drunk driving a second time, you face 30 days to 12 months in jail, a maximum fine of $4,000, and a driver’s license suspension of 2 years. For a third DWI conviction, you could be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Drunk Driving Accidents: When your DWI arrest is linked to a serious car accident, felony charges may apply for even a first-time offense.
- Intoxication Assault, causing injuries through a crash, is a Third Degree Felony. A judge could sentence 2 to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for a conviction.
- When a DWI collision leads to a fatality, you could be arrested for Intoxication Manslaughter. As a Second Degree Felony, a conviction is punishable by 2 to 20 years’ incarceration.
DWI with a Child Passenger: If you are arrested for drunk driving and there is a child under the age of 15 in the car, the charge is a State Jail Felony; however, the specific offense is child endangerment. A judge could order 180 days to two years’ imprisonment for a conviction.
Open Container Drunk Driving: It is a criminal offense to operate a motor vehicle with any vessel of alcohol in it when the seal is broken, the cap is off, or the container was otherwise already accessed. The crime is a Class C Misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine.
Questions to Ask Your Galveston DWI Lawyer
Even knowing why you need an attorney for Texas drunk driving charges, you may not know where to begin with finding the right fit. It is important to do your homework when discussing your case with potential candidates to represent you. Getting answers to the following questions may help guide you in decision-making.
- What is the primary focus of your firm? You should ensure that your lawyer mainly handles criminal defense cases, including a large percentage of DWI cases. This helps you assess the person’s experience and dedication to helping those accused of a crime.
- What are your initial impressions about strategy? Early on, an attorney should be able to provide some information about fighting the charges, presenting defenses, and discussing a plea bargain.
- Who will be my main contact person? Make sure your lawyer will be the primary person you communicate with about your case. It is a red flag if you are only dealing with a paralegal or other support staff when trying to reach your attorney.
Call Now to Set Up a Consultation with a Skilled Galveston DWI Lawyer
The key takeaway from the above is that you level the playing field when you retain experienced legal representation to protect your interests. For more information on our legal services for individuals in Galveston County and Greater Houston, please call Criminal Defense Attorney Mark Diaz (409) 515-6170. We can set up a consultation with a Galveston drunk driving defense attorney who will assess your situation and determine strategies for fighting the charges.