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New DWI Law Gives First-Time Offenders a Chance to Seal Their Records

Texas, unfortunately, has garnered an infamous reputation for harsh driving while intoxicated (DWI) laws. However, a newly passed bill known as HB 3582 might ease some of the issues DWI offenders face post-conviction. The state of Texas now allows first-time DWI offenders to obtain deferred adjudication if they’re eligible.

Deferred adjudication is an alternative type of community supervision where the judge withholds the defendant’s guilt. There will be no final conviction on the defendant’s record, and they’ll be court ordered to complete the terms and conditions of the program. Successful completion of the program will result in the judge dismissing your charges. Deferred adjudication differs from probation because it doesn’t require the defendant to plead and if completed there is no conviction on that person’s record.

The state of Texas allowed DWI offenders to apply for deferred adjudication until 1984. Once it was disallowed, the courts faced some serious unintended consequences. Prosecutors as a result lost their ability to be flexible with pleading, which led to a massive backlog of cases. This is evident in Texas statistics. For example, it was recorded that in Lubbock County 76 percent of all their criminal court cases were for driving under the influence.

However, some people and major organizations fought back against deferred adjudication for DWI offenders such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). It took five house bill attempts to finally pass the new deferred adjudication law. Now, first-time DWI offenders can have a “second chance” and can avoid having a DWI conviction on their record.

What Are the Terms for Deferred Adjudication in Texas?

Deferred adjudication is a type of probation, so it shares a lot of the same conditions. Before you can obtain deferred adjudication, however, you must check if you’re eligible. Some offenders with a violent crime history or have had their adjudication 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:

  • Indecency with a child;
  • Sexual Assault;
  • Aggravated sexual assault;
  • Sexual offenses in a child safety zone;
  • Human trafficking in a child safety zone;
  • Burglary in a child safety zone; or
  • Aggravated kidnapping in a child safety zone.

If you discover you’re eligible, you and your attorney can request deferred adjudication from the judge and prosecuting attorney. The judge will determine a list of terms and conditions you must follow if you’re granted deferred adjudication. The length of your deferred adjudication will depend on the offense-level. Misdemeanor DWI cases have a deferred adjudication of up to two years and felony-level DWI cases have a deferred adjudication of up to 10 years.

Many of the conditions listed for deferred adjudication are rehabilitative. Offenders are often required to attend alcohol and substance abuse classes, treatment and must undergo random alcohol screenings and drug tests. Texas also requires offenders to install either an ignition interlock device (IID) on their car or carry around a portable alcohol monitor (PAM).

Ignition interlock devices are a type of breathalyzer attached to the engine to your car. To turn the car on, you must submit a breath sample that is under the legal limit of .08 BAC. Submitting a high BAC sample will result in your car locking and turning off the engine. You won’t be able to have another person blow into the device for you either. IIDs require “rolling tests” which are breath sample tests while you are driving.

Portable alcohol monitors (PAM) are handheld breathalyzers court ordered to DWI offenders without a vehicle. The judge may require you to blow into the device several times of day. If you are above the legal limit, the PAM will automatically alert the appropriate authorities. In either scenario, the judge will court order you to pay the full cost and installation of whatever alcohol monitoring device you’re given.

Why Is This New DWI Law So Important?

What separates probation and deferred adjudication is the ability to obtain a petition for non-disclosure, otherwise known as sealing your record. Only those who obtained deferred adjudication and completed it successfully are eligible to obtain non-disclosure. This means in the past not a single DWI offender was able to seal their record from the public since 1984.

Texas’s newly passed DWI law means that first-time offenders can have their records sealed after the appropriate amount of time. Since DWI is a relatively non-violent crime, the fact that offenders couldn’t seal their records has really hurt the careers and goals of many Texans. Having a DWI charge or arrest on your record could cost a person their scholarships, career opportunities, licensing opportunities such as becoming a doctor and ability to obtain a loan.

Now, first-time offenders can have a “fresh start” and move on from their DWI charges. Prosecutors and judges won’t have their dockets congested with DWI cases as well. All in all, it seems this new bill has brought a lot of hope and effectiveness to Texas’s court system.

This article was last updated on September 30, 2019.