As criminal attorneys we are frequently called upon to anticipate what other people will think of a particular piece of information. Predicting other peoples’ thoughts or concerns is an imperfect science, but when it comes to counseling a person recently arrested for DWI, we understand that one of the biggest concerns is “how do I keep this thing off my record?” Understanding a little about the nature of DWI helps can help explain why the options are so limited and having the right attorney is important.
The short answer to the question is that the methods of protecting your record from a DWI pale in comparison to even some serious felonies. Over the past 30 years, the Texas legislature has done many creative things with the DWI statutes, and perhaps the most serious tinkering came when the State of Texas determined that the ONLY way to prevent a DWI arrest from permanently appearing on your record is by taking your case to trial and winning.
Why is this the case? A DWI is a unique sort of criminal offense. The most unique aspect being that most people charged with DWI do not fit the stereotypical mold of “a criminal.” A DWI is a responsibility crime – it requires no victim. In fact, the existence of a victim would transform a DWI into something much more serious. Special interest groups in conjunction with legislators seeking to reduce the risk of these much more serious offenses have beefed up sanctions on the risk-creating behavior of DWI.
Now, the most typical way for a legislator to get “tough on crime” is to impose more serious sentence range for a particular type of offense. Being that a person convicted of DWI is an atypical criminal, making serious jail sentences mandatory seems unduly harsh. While there are surely some people out there who would like to see first offense DWI cases be classified as felonies, even our legislature thinks this option is a bit extreme. The “compromise” is to disallow any form of plea bargaining which would prevent a permanent blemish on your criminal record.
Of course, this leaves defendants and attorneys with only one option if the goal is to prevent a criminal record: take the case to trial and win. This is why DWI cases are, by far, the most litigated Misdemeanor offense in Collin County – surely an unintended consequence of making funky laws. Nonetheless, the law being what the law is underscores the importance of having the right attorneys for the job – ones with experience handling DWI cases, familiarity with the science and tactics behind the prosecution of a DWI offense, and with the skills it takes to effectively present a case to a jury. There is no question about it, if your goal is to keep a DWI off your record, you need to hire a trial attorney.