DWI: How Texas’s “Second Chance” Law Could Help First-Time Offenders
- August 9, 2017
- The Law Office of Greg Tsioros
- Comments Off on DWI: How Texas’s “Second Chance” Law Could Help First-Time Offenders
Governor Gregg Abbott recently signed H.B. 3016, a bill that will allow a first-time DWI offender to submit an application for non-disclosure to restrict access to his or her criminal record. The new law seals the offender’s record and prohibits employers and others to see the criminal record if the offender gets an ignition interlock device on his or her vehicle. H.B. 3016 goes into effect on September 1, 2017.
An ignition interlock prevents the vehicle’s operator from starting the motor unless he or she passes a pre-programmed blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level. If the driver blows into the device with a BAC above the established limit, the vehicle won’t start.
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What is Texas H.B. 3016?
The new law enables the first-time DWI offender to request non-disclosure after the two-year probation period is completed as long as the driver successfully uses an ignition interlock device for six months during the period.
H.B. 3016 is a highly beneficial option for first-time offenders because the alternative choice is either a) a DWI conviction, b) going to trial on the DWI charge, or c) installing the interlock ignition device and, upon successful use for six months, the DWI charge is removed from the driver’s record.
What’s the Impact of a DWI in Texas?
Many employers might not want to assume the perceived risk of an otherwise attractive applicant’s prior DWI record. The employee might need to operate a vehicle as part of his or her job. If the defendant has the option to eventually clear his or her record, it’s a win-win for all concerned.
Having a DWI record is an enormous social burden. After the offender pays significant fines, serves possible jail time, and installs the ignition interlock device, he or she will continue to face hurdles in the world:
- Finding a home or apartment can be problematic (an application for a home mortgage or personal loan might be declined)
- Background checks reveal the offender’s DWI. This fact can make it difficult to get a new job.
The state has helped the driver to understand the perils of drunk driving and the use of the ignition interlock device is proven as an effective tool in reaching the goal. If the offender continues to want to drive while intoxicated, the ignition interlock device will protect him or her and other drivers on the road.
H.B. 3016 is retroactive. If the driver meets the conditions established by the law and applies for an offense he or she committed prior to, on, or after the effective date of September 1, 2017, it’s possible to wipe the slate clean of a first-time DWI if he or she had a BAC level of 0.08 to 0.14 percent.
If the DWI offender doesn’t choose to install an interlock ignition device, he or she must wait five years after the probationary period to request non-disclosure. Non-disclosure isn’t offered under Texas’s existing DWI law. Lawmakers hope that a “second chance” will help more people avoid making the poor decision to drink and drive.
Texas H.B. 3016 Doesn’t Seal DWI Records from Law Enforcement
H.B. 3016 is both a positive “carrot” and a “stick.” Lawmakers want first-time DWI offenders to learn that driving drunk isn’t an option in Texas.
For that reason, the new law doesn’t wipe the DWI slate completely clean. A driver with a DWI on his or her record won’t have the option to seal the record from law enforcement. If the driver continues to drive while intoxicated and gets a third DWI, he or she faces felony charges.
What’s the Current DWI Law in Texas?
The current DWI law is more severe. A driving while intoxicated charge is a serious and complex legal matter. Until the new law takes effect, a first-time DWI offense is usually considered a misdemeanor. However, a DWI can have severe consequences.
Multiple DWI offenses add greater penalties to the convicted offender. If the driver is charged with a DWI today when a law enforcement offer believes there’s probable cause to pull him or her over (on “reasonable suspicion” that he or she is driving impaired), the officer immediately proceeds to gather blood samples to determine blood alcohol content (BAC greater than 0.08 percent) and field sobriety tests.
The officer determines probable cause by the driver’s behavior, such as running a red light, speeding, or swerving.
Recent updates to the DWI law in Texas allow officers to take blood without a warrant from a driver. If the driver is involved in an accident that involves bodily injury or the transport of a person to the hospital, if the driver had a child passenger on board when arrested for a DWI, or if the officer has other “reliable information,” the offense may be prosecuted as a felony. In convicted of a felony, the first-time offender faces additional punishments.
Typical Punishments for a First DWI Offense in Texas
Punishments for a first DWI offense vary according to the individual’s circumstances, but the following punishments are typical to most DWI cases:
- Jail term: from three to 180 days
- Fees and fines: In Texas, the surcharges are usually expensive (amounting to a bill that’s in the thousands of dollars)
- Driver’s license: Driving privileges are usually suspended for at least six months or more
- Personal restrictions: The driver may be required to submit to intermittent drug testing, alcohol education programs, and at-home breathalyzers
In addition, the following penalties may apply in addition to the costs of direct legal punishments:
- Higher insurance rates are common. The driver’s motor vehicle policy may be canceled and he or she may find it difficult to get new coverage.
- Unemployment may result and the individual may be challenged to obtain a new job.
- Loss of respect and/or public disapproval from friends and family may result.
- Until September 1, 2017, the offender can’t expunge a DWI from his or her criminal record.
Possible Legal Defenses
An experienced DWI attorney can help the defendant to reduce or mitigate some of the penalties associated with a DWI. For instance, the DWI attorney will scrutinize the prosecution’s case for incomplete information, inaccuracies, or frank defects.
For instance, the DWI attorney may show that the arresting officer didn’t have probable cause to pull over the alleged offender’s vehicle. If the defense attorney proves this fact, the arrest of the defendant is rendered invalid. He or she may also demonstrate that the arresting law enforcement officer improperly administered field sobriety tests. In that case, the defense attorney prevents the officer’s “evidence” from admission to the court.
The Importance of Experienced DWI Representation
An experienced DWI attorney can make the difference in the outcome of your first DWI offense. The Law Office of Greg Tsioros represents Texas drivers facing DWI and DWI-related charges. To protect yourself or a loved one from facing the huge potential burden of a DWI conviction, it’s important to obtain legal representation right away.
Don’t risk the loss of your driver’s license, potential job loss, and other serious consequences. Mr. Tsioros, a former prosecutor at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office (both misdemeanor and felony courts), has the experience you need. Contact us to arrange an initial case evaluation now.