A million questions can run through a person’s mind once they are formally charged with a misdemeanor DWI. Should I get a lawyer? What is going to happen to my license? What kinds of penalties am I facing? Will I have a criminal record? All of these questions are good ones since they will all play a crucial part in how your misdemeanor DWI gets resolved. The process for a DWI can be intimidating, but this guide will give an overview of what you can expect once you are charged with a misdemeanor DWI.
After the Arrest
Your DWI process starts once the officer issues tickets for any alleged traffic violations and DWI. You will be given a date and time to formally appear in court because a DWI is a misdemeanor and cannot be handled by mailing in a ticket, like a traffic infraction. You may or may not receive a copy of the supporting paperwork the officer prepared in the course of your arrest. At this point, it’s important to consult with an experienced DWI attorney because you will not want to make your first appearance in a criminal courtroom alone.
When you are arrested for DWI, the officer is supposed to ask for your consent to submit to a chemical breath test or urine or blood sample. These tests will be used to determine if your BAC was over the legal limit of .08. If you consented to any of these tests, then your license will more than likely be suspended throughout the pendency of your DWI case at your first court appearance (known as an arraignment) for having a BAC over the legal limit of .08. If you refused a test to determine your BAC, a secondary process is initiated with the DMV. Information on the process after refusing a chemical test can be found here.
When your license is revoked for having a BAC of .08 or more, you could be eligible for restricted driving privileges. There are two types of restricted driving privileges for the purposes of a DWI: they are hardship privileges and conditional licenses.
A hardship privilege allows you to drive within very strict parameters including to and from work, medical appointments, and school if you are a student. Please note that these are the only locations to which you are allowed to drive. Driving outside of the restrictions of a hardship privilege can result in further misdemeanor charges. The Judge in the court of which you are charged determines whether or not you will be granted hardship driving privileges. You have to demonstrate to the Judge that not being able to drive for the specific reasons above would create an undue hardship on you that could not be avoidable. This also means that you have to show that you would not be able to utilize public transportation or family/friends to transport you. The Judge may deny your hardship request if he or she feels that you can manage without these very restrictive driving privileges. About 30 days after your license has been suspended by the court, you should receive notification from the DMV as to whether or not you’re eligible for less restrictive driving privileges in the form of a conditional license.
A conditional license is less restrictive than hardship privileges because you have the ability to drive to and from work, for work, and during a designated time once per week to run errands, for example. You are eligible for a conditional license if you do not have any alcohol related convictions within 5 years from the date of your current arrest. The DMV may still decide to deny you a conditional license if you have prior alcohol related offenses older than 5 years; it is completely up to the discretion of the DMV. Conditional licenses are broken up into pre and post-conviction designations because your license could be suspended further after your case is resolved, depending on what you were convicted of. If this is the case, then you would need further restricted driving privileges in the form of a post-conviction conditional license to keep driving. For a DWI conviction, your license is suspended for a minimum of 6 months after your sentence.
Negotiating with the District Attorney
The District Attorney’s Office is the entity that prosecutes the charges against you. Their responsibility is to prove that you are guilty of what you are charged with. They do this, for example, by utilizing the information gathered by the police officer who arrested you to show that you were over the .08 BAC limit or driving impaired. The District Attorney may decide to reduce the charges against you with certain stipulations attached, known as a plea bargain. Basically, your charges are reduced in return for certain conditions. These conditions can include, but are not limited to, installing an Ignition Interlock Device, paying certain fines and surcharges, completing alcohol awareness programs and or promising not to get into further trouble with the criminal justice system for a period of time through a supervised probation or personal supervision. The terms and conditions of a plea bargain can vary from case to case, which is why it’s important to consult with an experienced DWI attorney to try and negotiate the best possible plea bargain.
Most District Attorneys’ Offices will require that you undergo what’s known as an alcohol and substance abuse evaluation before they will consider making a reduction in the charges against you. They require this to make sure that you do not have any underlining issues related to alcohol, and if so, that those issues are addressed through substance abuse treatment prior to potentially reducing your charges. It is not required to negotiate with the District Attorney, but a Judge may even require an evaluation before allowing you to enter certain plea agreements. Plan on doing an evaluation since you will have likely have to. The evaluator conducting your evaluation must also be OASAS certified, which is a state designation for a counselor who is certified to offer alcohol and substance abuse counseling. You would have to complete a treatment program if your evaluator made a formal recommendation.
Resolving Your Case
Depending on whether an acceptable plea bargain has been made by the District Attorney, the final step is to begin the process of closing your case. This involves the completion of any alcohol treatment program, and payment of fines and surcharges to the court etc. Most courts will not allow you to enter a plea and be sentenced without first paying your fine and surcharge. It’s always a good idea to save as much money as possible during your case so it is not prolonged by an inability to pay your fine and surcharge. Remember, any license suspension period resulting from your conviction do not begin until after you are sentenced; you do not get credit for suspension time during your case. After your sentencing, you may have to complete a program through the DMV, perform community service, report to a probation officer, etc. An experienced DWI attorney will walk you through all the steps specific to your case should there be any special requirements you have to fulfill as a part of your sentence.
The above is only meant to be an overview of what can be expected when you are charged with a misdemeanor DWI, which can differ greatly from that of receiving a felony DWI. Your case may follow a different direction altogether, even with a misdemeanor DWI if it is determined or becomes apparent during your case that the best outcome might be reached by going to a trial. Always make sure to speak with an experienced DWI attorney to determine the best approach to resolve your misdemeanor DWI.
DISCLAIMER: The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem. Statewide Defense with Corporate offices Central located for The DWI GUYS at 432 N. Franklin Street, Syracuse, NY 13204; Telephone No.: 1-800-394-8326. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.