Exception to the 'No Deferred Adjudication for DWI' Rule

Decatur Texas defense attorney Barry Green left a comment on a post sometime back, and I meant to publish it, as soon as I got around to correcting my error. Done – although, it took a reminder from his blog for me to finally get around to doing it.

In his comment he politely points out that my knee-jerk reaction to a reader’s question (“Should he plead not guilty or try for deferred adjudication?”) was “a bit unclear” because she was talking about a Felony DWI with Child Passenger charge, not a plain old ordinary first time DWI. Turns out Barry was being kind in his comment.

Love your blog but I think something was a bit unclear here. Unless I'm wrong, CCP 42.12 Sec.5 still has the loophole to allow for deferred adjudication for the offense of DWI w/ Child. (Certainly, that option will be legislatively abolished one of these days.) But, for now, I can still get that offer on occasion up here in North Texas.

Since the question dealt specifically with State Jail Felony charge of DWI with Child Passenger, my answer was flat wrong. The specific question in the post was:

Should he plead not guilty or try for deferred adjudication?

My original answer:

Unfortunately, there’s no deferred adjudication for DWI in Texas. There are, of course, other negotiable non-DWI options however, even for State Jail Felony DWI arrests.

You can indeed get deferred adjudication for that charge, although I’m sure it was a legislative mistake. The section prohibiting deferreds for DWI charges is in the Code of Criminal Procedure, while the ‘new’ section for State Jail DWI is in the Penal Code. When they added the new offense, they forgot to go back and prohibit deferreds in the appropriate section, so it is indeed possible.

Part of my error is that when I hear that question (“Plead Not Guilty or Go For Deferred?”) in other non-DWI contexts, and I usually explain that there are other options besides (a) going to full blown jury trial and (b) ‘settling’ for deferred adjudication.

One day, I’ll write a post about why it’s good there’s no deferred adjudication for DWI. (Short version: deferred’s not always that good of an option, so it encourages trying cases.)

In the meantime, thanks for the complements Barry, you sent quite a few readers this way; over 100 in fact, and everyone else out there, please feel free to tell me when I get something wrong.

DWI with Child Passenger - Questions and Answers

My boyfriend was recently charged with DWI with a Child Passenger in Midland, TX. When he was pulled over, he performed several field sobriety tests and submitted to a breath test.

The arresting officer didn't state whether he passed or failed and stated he "refused to blow" in his final report. And, an additional breath test was not administered at the jail.

He's in the process of retaining a lawyer referred to him by (someone he knows). The lawyer isn't a DWI lawyer and I've researched him to find most of his cases are trial cases. Is this the lawyer to have?

Actually, I would look for a lawyer that does have trial experience. Prosecutors know which lawyers will and won’t try cases, and, all other things being equal, probably offer better plea bargains to lawyers who they know can try a case well. Also, I think personal referrals are always a good source for finding a lawyer.

Criminal defense is very different from civil law practice however. You will want to know how much criminal defense, and DWI work any lawyer you hire has under his belt.

Does the state have a case?

This is the basic question everyone wants to know, of course, when they first come to see me as well. Unfortunately, there’s no pat answer to the question. If he did reasonably well on the FSTs, and didn’t provide a breath or blood specimen over the limit, then there’s always room for a valid defense.

Does he, my boyfriend, need to prove he complied with the breath test?

Based on your scenario, he probably took a portable breath test at the scene. For ALR driver’s license suspension purposes, refusing a request to take an Intoxilyzer test at the police station counts as a refusal, whether or not he took a PBT on scene. (And, of course, he doesn’t have to prove he took a breath test – they have to prove he was properly offered a test after the arrest, and that then he refused.)

Should he plead not guilty or try for deferred adjudication?

Unfortunately, there’s no deferred adjudication for DWI in Texas. There are, of course, other negotiable non-DWI options however, even for State Jail Felony DWI arrests.  [CORRECTION]

The lawyer has also told him he may be able to keep this off his record. Is this truthful?

If the case is dismissed, or he is acquitted at a bench or jury trial, he can seek to expunge the arrest from his record.

[From an email I received; names deleted, and my answers in bold.]

Texas DWI Deferred?

   Hello, Mr. Spencer, I am a very concerned Texan about a DWI charge with a deferred adjudication given back in Nov. 1998 when I was 19 years old. That has been more than eight years ago. When I got a copy of my criminal history I learned that the arrest was made but when it came to final pleading it said "unknown/unreported", but does not say "not guilty", nor "nolo contendere"? 

   What's up with this? I came across your website by accident and I read "there has been no deferred adjudication in Texas for DWI since 1984". Well Mr. Spencer, with all due respect, and I can assure you I am not lying to you, I do have a deferred adjudication on a DWI after 1984.

   Things keeps getting better, at the same time I was concurrently charged with evading arrest (Nov.98) with deferred adjudication, one year of probation. One day when I had to report to my probation officer for my evading arrest charge, I told him about the DWI charge and asked if I was going to serve it concurrently with evading arrest. He said what DWI? He did not know I even had it! 

   He said he was going to look for the report but couldn't find it in his office, and off he went to the city where I was originally arrested and couldn't find it either, and finally sent me to the county clerk office to see if the DWI report was there, neither. I went back to his office and told him what was happening and he said I was lucky that the papers got lost?! Up to date I am 100% sure I did not receive probation for this charge nor A.A. classes nor reported to my probation officer up-to-date. It's been over 8 years.

   What can be done from here should I expunge the record if possible or should I go with motion for non-disclosure? What is your best advice?

[email from “Name Withheld”]

There are several questions in this email; let me try to address them.

First, Deferred Adjudication for DWI, after 1984. While the law was changed to reflect that Deferred was not available to DWI offenders after September 1st, 1984, in fact, many counties kept giving it anyway. I suspect this was because they were unaware of the change in the law.

I know, from gathering prior records on DWI second and felony DWI clients in Austin, whose priors were in other Texas counties, that this happened, because I’ve seen it.  That actually presents some potentially favorable legal issues for the defense regarding enhancement of future DWIs, but I will address that question some other time.

My experience is that 1998 was a little late for any county in Texas to figure that out, but then again, you never know. Basically, if you plead no contest or guilty to the DWI, and the judge said something like “in the interest of justice I’m going to defer a finding of guilt and place you on community supervison…”, then you received deferred, even though technically you weren’t supposed to be able to.

Second, there’s really no such thing as “your criminal history”. Or perhaps I should say it this way: even this long after 9/11, there is no central database for all criminal history records. There’s only a variety of different agencies that have records of your arrest, and not all of them show what the disposition was. Even Texas DPS, which is the closest thing to a central depository for criminal histories, often shows “disposition unknown” as the resolution to cases that were resolved years ago.

You would need to go to the County Clerk’s office in the County in which you were arrested, not where you were supervised for the evading, and do a search for yourself by name and date of birth. In fact, in your case, I advise you to do it immediately, because you want to ensure that you got credit for the probation that you did for both cases.  If that doesn't do it, I'd contact a criminal defense lawyer in that county, and go from there.  If they were in the same county, contact a local attorney.

What you don’t want is some county in Texas thinking you were supposed to be reporting to their probation officer, but never did. If their computer tells them that, they may have issued a warrant for violating probation conditions (even though you were reporting in another county).

As far as expunction vs. motion for non-disclosure, an expunction is better, but you need to find out the disposition of the case, before you’ll be able to know if you are eligible for either.