New DWI Law Gives Offenders a Chance to Seal Their Records
Unfortunately, compared to other U.S. states Texas has incredibly strict driving while intoxicated (DWI) laws. The penalties associated with DWI are incredibly serious and offenders who were convicted have little to no options after their verdict. However, a newly passed bill may loosen the reins on DWI offenders by allowing them to obtain deferred adjudication.
Deferred adjudication is special type of community supervision where the judge withholds the defendant’s guilt and their conviction. When the judge defers a person’s adjudication, it means there will be no final conviction on the defendant’s record if they’ve completed the terms and conditions of the program. Successful completion of the program will result in the judge dismissing your charges entirely. Deferred adjudication differs from standard probation because it doesn’t require the defendant to plead or to retain a conviction on their record.
Texas allowed DWI offenders to request deferred adjudication until 1984. Once the courts disallowed it, prosecutors faced some unintended consequences. Many district attorneys lost their ability to be flexible when it comes to pleading, which lead to a massive amount of cases being backlogged. For example, in 2018 Lubbock County recorded that 76 percent of all their criminal court cases were for driving under the influence cases.
Law makers attempted to change the limiting restrictions, but some people and major organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) fought back against the legislation. After five house bill attempts, the new deferred adjudication finally made it to the Texas Senate and passed. Now, for the first time in nearly two decades DWI offenders can have a “second chance” and avoid having a DWI conviction on their record.
What is Deferred Adjudication and How Does it Work?
Deferred adjudication is an alternative to incarceration. It shares a lot of the same conditions as a standard probation sentence, but not everyone is eligible to have their adjudication deferred. Offenders with a violent criminal history or have had their adjudications deferred within the last five years don’t qualify for deferred adjudication. You cannot obtain deferred adjudication for your charges if you have a prior conviction for:
· Sexual Assault;
· Aggravated sexual assault;
· Sexual offenses in a child safety zone;
· Human trafficking in a child safety zone;
· Indecency with a child;
· Aggravated kidnapping in a child safety zone; or
· Burglary in a child safety zone
If you discover you’re eligible for deferred adjudication, then you and your attorney can request it from the judge and prosecuting attorney. The judge will compile a list of terms and conditions you are required to follow if you’re granted deferred adjudications. You must follow these terms for a period which depends on the offense level of your DWI. Misdemeanor DWI cases have a deferred adjudication of up to two years, while felony-level DWI cases have a deferred adjudication of up to 10 years.
The majority of the conditions associated with deferred adjudication are rehabilitative. You will likely be asked to attend an alcohol and substance abuse evaluation, classes, treatment and may be required to undergo random alcohol screenings or drug tests. In addition, you must install either an ignition interlock device (IID) to your car or carry an portable alcohol monitor (PAM) if you want to qualify for deferred adjudication for DWI.
Ignition interlock devices are a type of breathalyzer that’s attached to your car’s engine. The purpose of the device is that you must submit a breath sample if you want to start the car. Blowing over the legal limit of .08 BAC will result in your car locking and turning off the engine. Not only this, but you won’t be able to have another person blow into the car for you. IIDs require “rolling tests,” which are required random breath tests while driving.
Portable alcohol monitors (PAM) are for if you were convicted of DWI, but don’t own a vehicle. These instruments are essentially mini breathalyzers that you’ll be obligated to carry around and submit random breath samples several times a day. Submitting a sample that’s over the limit will automatically alert the appropriate authorities.
Regardless if you’re court ordered an IID or PAM, you will be required to pay the full installation costs as well as monthly calibration expenses.
Why is This New DWI Law So Important?
In the past, DWI offenders couldn’t receive deferred adjudication and must retain a conviction on their record if they wanted to receive community supervision. Now, first-time DWI offenders can not only avoid a conviction on their record, but they could have it completely sealed with a petition for non-disclosure.
Under Texas law, the only way you can seal your record is with a petition of non-disclosure. However, the only way you’re eligible for a petition is if you received deferred adjudication for your charges and completed the program successfully. This means DWI offenders couldn’t seal their records from the public since 1984 even if the crime resulted in minimal property damage or injury.
Now, first time DWI offenders can receive deferred adjudication, which means they can seal their records after an appropriate amount of time. This eases the fears of non-violent DWI offenders who could face serious issues obtaining their professional and personal goals because of one mistake. Having a DWI arrest or charges on a person’s record could cost them career opportunities, scholarships, licensing opportunities, and even the ability to obtain loans.
Now, first-time offenders can move on from their mistakes and pursue a “fresh start.” In addition, prosecutors and judges will no longer have their calendars filled with DWI cases. So it seems all in all the new DWI bill has brought a lot of hope and effectiveness to Texas’s judicial system.