DWI Process – Stage 2: The Court Case
The second stage of the DWI process begins after the DWI Arrest. Two different processes are going on after you are arrested: 1) the Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) attempts to revoke your license pursuant to the ALR process and 2) the state of Texas (through the county district attorney’s office) files criminal charges against you for violation of Texas statutes. The ALR process goes on in SOAH courts, and the criminal charges are handled at the county court level. You will be assigned a date to make your first appearance in criminal court, and you have 15 days after the date of arrest to request an ALR Hearing in order to maintain your driving privileges.
It is important that you hire a DWI Defense Lawyer as soon as you are out of jail. You should have legal representation to request and prepare for your ALR Hearing. You should also have legal representation to conduct an independent defense investigation into the DWI arrest. The particular circumstances of your arrest that we uncover through the investigation can make a huge difference in your case outcome. As your defense is being prepared, you will assist your defense attorney and attend the required court hearings.
DWI cases are handled in either county criminal courts or county courts at law. Your first court appearance could be weeks or months from the date that you are arrested. The speed at which the criminal case progresses depends on the volume of cases handled by the court and the prosecutors in your county.
It is important to remember that two processes are happening simultaneously after you are arrested for DWI: 1) the criminal court process and 2) the civil ALR Hearing process. This section discusses the criminal case only. If you want to maintain your driving privileges, it is important to request your ALR Hearing and fight the charges in the court that handles those hearing, the State Office of Administrative Hearings (“SOAH”). The ALR Hearing process is discussed at the bottom of this page.
You are usually required to come to your first criminal court hearing (you should never attend the ALR Hearing). But depending on the county and the particular court in which your case is being heard, you may have to attend more than the first criminal court setting. In Dallas County misdemeanor courts, you usually do not have to attend every court hearing after you have retained a lawyer. In Tarrant County you have to attend every court settings no matter what. Other counties, such as Collin County, Denton County, or Rockwall County, sometimes fall in-between.
Court appearances vary in length, purpose and frequency, depending on the county and the nature of the hearing. But usually your defense attorney will do all of the work at the hearing, and you will just indicate to the court that you were in attendance by signing in or otherwise checking in with the court. At the court appearances, your attorney will file motions and collect discovery evidence from the state prosecutors.
As the court process continues, we will review this evidence, collect other evidence from an independent investigation and prepare your case for the best possible DWI defense.
Eventually, we will review with you all of the evidence that we have collected. We will provide you with our opinion as to your best defense strategy. No matter what we recommend, we will negotiate and obtain a “best offer” from the state prosecutors. The state will usually offer you this “best offer” plea bargain deal in exchange for you pleading guilty. The quality of a plea bargain offer depends mostly on how strong the DWI defense case is that we have built for you. The plea bargain deal will usually involve probation time, fees, classes and other penalties.
It will be up to you whether to accept the plea bargain offer or reject the offer and proceed to trial. If you decide to go to trial, we will present the evidence that we have collected, cross examine the state’s witnesses, challenge the forensic evidence collected (including the SFST evidence, blood evidence and breath evidence) and argue your case in court to either a judge or a jury. If the jury or judge finds you “Not Guilty” then your case is over. You will also be entitled to an expunction to completely clear all records of the DWI arrest.
If you are found “Guilty” then you will have a sentencing hearing where the judge or jury will decide what your criminal punishment will be. If you are found Guilty and are sentenced, then you may have to encounter jail time, probation, a license suspension and other penalties.
Read about what happens after The Court Case in the next stage of the DWI process: Expunction, Probation and DWI Penalties >>
In addition to the criminal court proceedings, administrative SOAH proceedings will occur after a DWI arrest. These proceedings will determine only whether your license will be suspended. You are entitled to an ALR hearing, but only if you properly and timely request it. If you fail to request the ALR Hearing, your license will be automatically suspended. If you or your attorney requests the hearing within 15 days of the DWI arrest, then you will be assigned a hearing date.
ALR Hearing procedures are technical and more strict than those in criminal court. You are strongly encouraged to call us to handle your ALR Hearing. It is also important for more reasons than just your license suspension issues. Your ALR Hearing can actually form the crux of your criminal defense strategy, but it can only do this if it is prepared and executed correctly.
After the ALR Hearing has been requested, it is typical that we serve the DPS attorney with papers requiring him or her to hand over discovery evidence to us. In addition, we will subpoena the arresting officer to appear at the ALR Hearing. If the officer is properly subpoenaed, then DPS will not be allowed to introduce the officer’s report without the officer being there. If the officer attends the hearing, then we will have an opportunity to cross-examine the officer under oath.
The SOAH Court will hear our arguments and the arguments of DPS and decide whether to suspend your license. The burden of proof for DPS is very low. The standard is, in fact, the lowest allowed anywhere in the law: a “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that the state usually wins ALR Hearings if the officer attends the hearing.
The SOAH court will issue its opinion shortly after the hearing. Once the opinion is issued, your license will be suspended if the judge found in favor of DPS. You are entitled to appeal this decision, but you will have to pay the appellate fees.
If your license is not suspended, then you are done with the SOAH court process. If your license is suspended, then you will probably want to obtain an Occupational Driver’s License (an “ODL”). We handle this for our clients as well.