There are few things more stressful than facing a criminal charge, and if you have been slapped with a DWI charge, understanding the legal basics can help considerably. If this is the situation you find yourself in, the most important step you can take to help yourself is reaching out to an experienced Killeen DWI attorney.
What the Police Are Looking for
Being pulled over by the police is terrifying – even if you are simply driving along safely, minding your own business, and obeying the rules of the road. If you happened to have had a glass of wine with dinner, you might think the police have a sixth sense for magically divining this information, but they do not – and you are well within your legal rights to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner.
The police cannot pull you over simply because they feel like it or because they have a hunch. To do so, they must have a reasonable suspicion that you were engaged in something illegal, such as driving while intoxicated. To qualify as reasonable suspicion, the officer must be able to articulate his or her reasons, and the most common tend to include:
Weaving one’s vehicle over the lane lines
Allowing one’s vehicle to drift or swerve
Slowing down or speeding up for no discernable reason
Driving more than 10 miles an hour below the speed limit
Responding to traffic signals very slowly
Failing to turn one’s headlights on
Taking turns too quickly, too jerkily, too widely, or too sharply
Narrowly missing striking or sideswiping another vehicle or object
Once You Have Been Pulled Over
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the factors that the police are looking for once you have been pulled over for suspicion of DUI include:
If you fumble when you retain your motor vehicle and registration
If you exhibit difficulty with your vehicle’s controls
If you have difficulty exiting your vehicle
If you smell of alcohol
If you repeat yourself when asking questions or making comments
If your speech is slurred
If your responses are slow or if the officer needs to repeat things for you
If you provide the officer with incorrect information and/or change your answers
If you sway, are unsteady, or exhibit balance problems when standing
If you lean on your vehicle or on something else when standing
In order to arrest you for DWI, the officer must have probable cause for believing you were driving while intoxicated, which is a stiffer standard than the suspicion that is required to pull you over.
Multiple Factors Can Affect Your Field Sobriety Test
If you are stopped for DWI in Texas, you will very likely be asked to take a field sobriety test (FST), which is not a test at all but is, instead, more like agility drills that have very little relevance to one’s ability to drive. In fact, according to the Journal of Aging Science, the developer of the standardized field sobriety tests conceded that the tests were not designed to determine impairment of driving. Further, there are so many factors that can affect one’s ability to perform these tests that fighting a positive reading is almost always advised. Consider the following circumstances that can negatively affect your performance on an FST:
Your overall health, including any health conditions you may have
How you are affected by stress
The medications you take
Your vision and/or hearing
You Are Unlikely to Go to Jail for a First Offense
If you are convicted of a DWI that is your first offense, it is a Class B misdemeanor that carries from 72 hours all the way up to 180 days in jail and fines of up to $2,000. Generally, however, for first offenses, jail time is suspended in lieu of community supervision (or probation). Typically, probation is set for from 12 months to a maximum of 24 months. It is important to note that Texas has what amounts to add-ons in terms of DWI charges. For example, if an open container is found in your vehicle, the minimum sentencing rises from 72 hours to a full six days behind bars. Additionally, your DWI charge can be deemed enhanced if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is higher than 0.15 percent, which is near twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent. An enhanced DWI is a Class A misdemeanor, which carries up to one year in jail and comes with fines of up to $4,000. Factors that can elevate your charge to a felony include:
Having a child under the age of 15 in the car
Causing an accident that leads to serious bodily harm
In addition to these legal consequences, there are significant social consequences to consider (a conviction is a matter of public record), including:
You can face difficulties renting a home and obtaining a home loan.
Finding a job can be exceptionally challenging.
The opportunity to advance your education with a federal student loan will disappear.
Gaining acceptance into the school of your choice may not be possible, and living on campus at a school where you do gain acceptance may not be an option.
Your overall social standing can take a serious hit.
A second DWI conviction is an even more serious concern. And if the charge is your third, it becomes an automatic felony.
Arrested? You Need a Game Plan
If you have been arrested for DWI, it is easy to let it consume you, but this is not going to help you address the matter head-on, obtain the most favorable legal resolution possible, and move on into your brightest future. Far too many people who are arrested for DWI let it define them, but this is not the way to go. The best course of action is to face down the reality of the charge and to bring your strongest defense from the get-go. You have legal rights, and there has never been a better time to exercise them.
Talk to Your Attorney – Not to the Police
The police will have plenty to say to you, and they will be very interested in everything that you want to tell them. The fact of the matter is, however, that you have the right to remain silent (other than providing basic identifying information), and remaining silent is the best course of action. The police are skilled at coaxing case-damaging statements out of defendants like you, and the best way to ensure they do not achieve this goal with you is to let them know that you will not be answering any questions or making any statements until you have an attorney and he or she advises you to do so.
Get Your Bond Figured Out
If you are arrested for DWI, your bond will be set, and while there are parameters involved, the judge in your case has considerable discretion in the matter. Having a dedicated DWI attorney on your side who knows the ins and outs of the courthouse in which your case is being heard can be remarkably advantageous at this juncture. Your attorney will skillfully advocate for the least bond possible – and may manage to completely bypass the need for a bond to be set in your case (depending upon the relevant circumstances).
If you are required to pay bail and need a bail bond service to cover the expense, it is important to carefully adhere to the terms imposed. The bail bond service pays your bond, which is intended to ensure that you show up for your court date. This means that the service will require you to stay in touch. The money that the bail bond service paid on your behalf will be returned to it after you have made your required court appearances, and you will owe the service a percentage of that total amount (its pay). That bond money is keeping you out of jail, which makes fulfilling what is required of you by the bail bond service paramount.
Give Your Social Media Accounts a Rest
Now is not the time to get chatty on social media. Social media has become so much like breathing for so many people that they often forget the implications – and ramifications – of what they write and of the pictures (which tell a thousand words) they post. The risk is too great that you will post something that does more harm than good to take a chance in the first place. Now is the time to reflect rather than to share (online and to virtual strangers in many instances).
If You Need Help, Do Not Be Afraid to Seek It
If you have been arrested for DWI, it could be indicative of a drinking problem (although this is by no means a given). If you think you are struggling with alcohol and/or underlying depression, do not be afraid to reach out and obtain the help you need. There is no denying that we have all been through a lot with the pandemic and its cascading consequences, and drinking is on the rise. Admitting you need help takes courage but is the first step in the journey forward toward well-being. Further, the court will very likely take your honest efforts to address the issue into careful consideration when resolving your case.
If you have been charged with DWI, you have all kinds of questions, and the answers to some of those asked most frequently may help.
How do I know if I’m above the legal limit?
If you are asking yourself this question, it is a pretty good sign that you should not be driving. If, however, you go out for dinner and have a glass or two of wine (over the course of two hours), you are very likely good to go. The alcohol in a standard drink is processed and eliminated – on average – in an hour. This means that one or two drinks in one or two hours (respectively) should be safe. Anything beyond this, however, is a terrible idea, and to make things more challenging, there are exceptions to every rule. Consider the following:
Your sex, size, and weight can all affect your BAC. If you are a petite woman who cannot keep weight on, your BAC will be considerably higher after a drink or two than it would be for a 300-pound male shot put thrower, for example.
Your health can also play a role. An underlying health condition can leave you more susceptible to the effects of alcohol.
The medications you take can also enhance the effects of alcohol.
If you are running on too little sleep, your level of impairment can increase (in addition to causing dangerous drowsy driving).
Your BAC does not have to exceed the limit for a DWI arrest to be forthcoming. If the officer deems that alcohol has affected your ability to control your vehicle safely, you could find yourself facing a DWI charge.
Do I really need an attorney?
There are nearly an endless number of significant reasons why you really do need an attorney, but the most important reason is that having a seasoned DWI attorney in your corner can greatly improve the outcome of your case.
What if I can’t afford an attorney?
It is not uncommon to be concerned about the cost of hiring an experienced DWI attorney when you are facing the potential fines and penalties you are, but the truth of the matter is that having an attorney on your side can save you money in the long run.
An Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a divorce attorney with the experience, keen legal insight, and focused drive to skillfully advocate for your legal rights – in pursuit of your case’s most advantageous outcome. For more information, please do not hesitate to contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 today.