Should You Seek Deferred Adjudication for a First-Time DWI?
Sept. 1 marked day one for a spate of new laws approved by the Legislature and signed into law this session, including one significant change that may positively impact those charged with a first-time DWI offense. After multiple attempts during past sessions, Texas lawmakers succeeded in changing the criminal code so that defendants charged with DWI can seek deferred adjudication probation in some circumstances. It was not an option before.
In Texas, a conviction for driving while intoxicated is no small incident. A DWI conviction can result in hefty fines, jail time and suspension of your driver’s license, especially if you try to fight the charges on your own without professional legal representation.
Under H.B. 3582, a first-time DWI offender could seek deferred adjudication probation if the offender was driving with a blood alcohol content of less than .15 (just under twice the legal limit) and where no property damage or personal injury occurred. In short, as long as you didn’t hurt yourself or someone else and their property, this option is worth considering if you’re faced with a DWI charge.
So, what does that mean?
To avoid a criminal conviction for a first-time offense, defendants must enter into the deferred adjudication program AND have an ignition interlock system installed on their vehicle. The new law is focused on rehabilitation and behavior modification for first-time offenders – as long as they can show that they have successfully completed their time with interlock monitoring and do not get a second offense, the DWI guilt finding remains deferred. The main difference between the opportunity for deferred adjudication in a DWI case vs. a more minor charge is that should the individual get a second DWI, the past offense, though deferred, can be resurrected and used as a prior conviction.
For most of our criminal clients at Chad West, PLLC, their case with us is their first brush with the law and the criminal justice system. Most of our clients do not reoffend, so we are pleased to see this as another option to help our clients. The deferred adjudication option can also be helpful to younger offenders such as college students who have shown a lapse in judgment but appear to be remorseful and want to try again. Community service may also be required as part of the deferred adjudication probation.
According to the industry group Intoxalock, there are a few exceptions in terms of eligibility under the new law. If any of the following are true, a defendant may not quality for deferred adjudication:
- If blood alcohol content was equal to or greater than .15 at the time of arrest.
- The driver has a commercial driver’s license endorsement
- The driver has a commercial driver’s license learner’s permit.
While this new law gives prosecutors another option for working out a charge and not adding to a backlog of DWI cases, we would like to encourage our clients to remember that the opportunity for deferral on a DWI charge is unlike deferred adjudication for a more minor criminal charge. Prosecutors can use these incidents as past offenses, so it’s important that those who have been charged with DWI not assume their charges will go away completely. If you’ve been charged with DWI, you still need professional legal counsel to help you with your charge.
Finally, remember that the opportunity for deferred adjudication isn’t right for everyone. For many of our clients, upon review of their case, we’ve found and shown the district attorney that our client’s civil rights were violated in the course of their interaction with law enforcement, resulting in complete dismissal of the charges. Don’t allow the carrot of deferred adjudication to sway you from aggressively defending your rights! Call us to review your case. Our phones are answered 24/7.