The Consequences of Drugged Driving in Texas Are Severe

Texas criminal defense attorneyDrunk driving gets a significant amount of media coverage. Campaigns target drunk drivers, and holidays are especially known for increased enforcement at DUI checkpoints. With all this attention, it can be easy to forget that drugged driving is also prevalent in Houston. According to the Washington Post, 2015 was the first year in which drugged driving caused more traffic fatalities than drunk driving. These statistics have lead many law enforcement agencies to step up their efforts to target drivers who are impaired by prescription and recreational drugs. Houston defendants who have been charged with DWI, whether from drugs or alcohol, face severe criminal penalties and many other collateral consequences.

How Current Drugged Driving Laws Make it Difficult to Protect Defendant’s Constitutional Rights

The Texas Penal Code Section 49.01(1) defines intoxication as not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol or a controlled substance into the body.

However, despite the fact that driving under the influence of opioids is a crime, this law is incredibly difficult to enforce and prosecute. Like most other states, Texas has not been able to set a blood level at which impaired driving from drug use can be inferred. Unlike alcohol, researchers have not yet been able to confidently assess the point at which humans are likely to be impaired by such drugs. This makes it more difficult for officers to establish probable cause that a driver is impaired by drugs.

The Illinois Herald-Review interviewed officers to learn more about the challenges faced by drug recognition experts. One such DRE reported that he is often called to a scene when the suspect’s blood alcohol content does not match his or her observed level impairment.

The vague statutory definition works both for and against defendants. From a prosecution standpoint, it is difficult to prove a charge when there is no definitive blood level for drug impairment, as there is for alcohol impairment. On the other hand, defendants are often left with only their own testimony that they did not feel impaired at the time of the offense. This testimony is rarely enough to persuade a jury. More importantly, a defendant may be forced to give up the constitutional protection against self-incrimination in order to invoke this defense.

A common example occurs when a defendant admits that he or she has been using a prescription medication, but is not impaired by it. This statement – which was intended to be used to clear the defendant of wrongdoing – can later be found at the center of the prosecution’s case against the defendant.

These ambiguities in drugged driving enforcement make it even more important for DWI defendants to seek legal advice. If you or a loved one has been charged with driving while intoxicated by drugs, contact an experienced Houston DWI defense attorney as soon as possible. You have important constitutional rights which must be protected.

Underage DWI Can Have Serious Consequences for Texas Defendants

Texas criminal defense attorneyFor many years, drunk driving has been the subject of intense activism and media coverage. The public is generally aware that criminal penalties for drinking and driving are severe. But there are also many collateral consequences to having an underage DWI conviction on your criminal record. It is therefore critical that defendants have good legal counsel to ensure that they are treated fairly throughout the charging process.

The Expected Consequences of an Underage DUI

Texas statutes have enacted a zero tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving. Under Chapter 4, Section 106.041 of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, a minor is guilty of Driving Under the Influence – a Class C misdemeanor – if he or she operates a motor vehicle with any detectable alcohol in his or her system. A minor convicted of this offense must be ordered to serve between twenty and forty hours of community service if it is the first offense, or between forty and sixty hours for repeat offense. All community service must be related to education or prevention of the misuse of alcohol. License suspensions also apply for underage DUI convictions. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, a minor’s driver’s license is suspended for sixty days for the first offense, 120 days for a second offense, and 180 days for third and subsequent convictions.

The Unexpected Consequences of a DWI

While most defendants understand that they face a combination of fines, jail time, and ignition interlock use, they are painfully unaware of the collateral consequences that a DWI conviction can bring. First, the court process is not a simple matter of filling out forms. It requires multiple appearances at the court which often result in missing work. Court-ordered community service and substance abuse classes take more time and can further aggravate the defendant’s employer. Furthermore, the sentenced fine is not the only cost a DWI defendant must pay. There are court fees, administrative fees, attorney’s fees, and other fees which add up quickly. Finally, defendants do not always realize the impact of having a criminal record. This can preclude employment and educational opportunities. Social events and relationships can also be impacted.

A defendant’s employment can also be affected by his or her professional licensure. Many licensing entities in Texas require reporting of criminal convictions, and some even require reporting of arrests and other pre-conviction proceedings. A first time DWI offense can cause a defendant to spend many hours attempting to secure his or her professional licensure. This, too, can incur more attorneys fees. Finally, it is important to realize how much time must be spent at the Department of Motor Vehicles in order to reinstate driving privileges after a DWI conviction. A special restricted license must be obtained for the period in which a defendant has an ignition interlock device. When this period is successfully completed, the defendant must obtain the appropriate court order and return to the DMV to have his or her regular driver’s license reinstated. This process is neither fun nor fast.

These and many other consequences of DWI can make a defendant’s life difficult long after the court case has been finalized. A Texas DWI defense lawyer can help underage defendants mitigate the damage of a criminal conviction.

Collateral Consequences of a Drug Possession Offense in Texas

Texas criminal defense attorneyIn the history of American criminal justice, drug offenses have generally been subject to some of the harshest penalties, despite the majority of them being non-violent offenses.

The current penal code in effect in Texas is no different. Defendants convicted of drug offenses are subject to jail time, fines and court fees, substance abuse counseling, community service, driver’s license suspension and a host of other sanctions. Even a first offense can carry serious penalties for charges of drug possession.

No criminal defense attorney can promise a particular outcome, but an experienced lawyer can help you navigate the system, protect your rights, work to suppress evidence harmful to your case, negotiate favorable plea deals and, in some cases and work toward a successful trial verdict.

The Criminal Penalties for a First Offense of Drug Possession

The sentencing for drug offenses is set forth in Section 481 of the Texas Health and Safety Code. Sentences are determined based upon (1) the type of drug, and (2) the quantity of the drug. Based upon these factors, the possession offense is classified as a:

  • Class C misdemeanor (punishable by a fine of up to $500)
  • Class B misdemeanor (punishable by a fine of up to $2000, up to 180 days in jail, or both)
  • Class C misdemeanor (punishable by a fine of up to $4000, up to one year in jail, or both)
  • State jail felony (punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and a jail term of 180 days to two years)
  • Third degree felony (punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and a prison term of two to ten years)
  • Second degree felony (punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and a prison term of two to twenty years)
  • First degree felony (punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and a prison term of five to ninety-nine years)

The Collateral Consequences of a Drug Conviction

Many criminal defendants are painfully unaware of the collateral consequences of a conviction for drug possession – even if it is a first offense.

The criminal process is lengthy, and often results in a significant amount of missed work. Job prospects are usually severely limited after a drug conviction – even if it is a misdemeanor. The consequences of a criminal record is not limited only to job opportunities, either housing, professional licensure, education, welfare benefits, military records, immigration status, the right to serve in public office, and social opportunities can all be limited by the nature of a drug conviction. Civil rights are also revoked automatically after a felony conviction, including: the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury and the right to possess a firearm.

A court can order a criminal defendant to undergo substance abuse screening or treatment as it deems necessary. This, too, can incur significant investments of time and money, but it is a critical step toward rebuilding one’s life after a drug conviction. If the drug offense involved driving under the influence, a significant investment of time and money would be needed in order to restore a defendant’s driving privileges.

Because a drug conviction can carry such devastating and long-lasting consequences, it is important to seek experienced legal counsel from the beginning of your case. Not only do defendants have a constitutional right to be represented by counsel, but the collateral consequences of a drug conviction can be mitigated by effective legal representation.

Protect your legal rights by contacting a Houston criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

The Consequences of a First Time DWI Offense in Texas

Texas criminal defense attorneyIt a lesson that many criminal defendants learn the hard way: even the first DUI offense can carry costly, time-consuming consequences which plague the defendant’s life for years to come. A sentence in the criminal court is just the start of a long and painful process.


Mandatory Sentencing for a DWI

The Texas Penal Code makes the following provision for sentencing a defendant for a first DWI offense:

  • Without prior convictions, a DWI is designated as a class four misdemeanor. (Texas Statutes, Title 10 49.09)
  • Class Four Misdemeanors are punishable by a fine of up to $4000, a jail term of up to one year, or both. (Texas Statutes, Title 3 12.21)

The Texas Statutes also provide for the suspension of the defendant’s driver’s license regardless of the outcome of the criminal case. Under Title 7 §524.001, an arresting officer must take a DWI suspect’s driver’s license and issue a notice of suspension, along with a temporary license valid for forty one days. The Department of Public Safety must then suspend the driver’s license if the defendant had a blood alcohol concentration over the legal limit. This entire process in entirely independent of any criminal proceedings.

Once a defendant incurs a second DWI within five years, the court must order the defendant to install an ignition interlock device, which prevents the defendant from operating the vehicle without first passing a breath test.  (Texas Statutes, Title 10 §49.09(h)). The Defendant is prohibited from driving any vehicle without an ignition interlock device during this time. If a defendant is proven to have any prior DWIs, he or she must also be sentenced to jail for a minimum of thirty days. (Texas Statutes, Title 10 §49.09(a)).

The Consequences That Many Defendants Don’t Know About 

Unfortunately, there are many collateral consequences of a DWI conviction beyond the mandatory sentence in the criminal case.  Any DWI case requires several court appearances, which are often during work hours. Community service also impacts a defendant’s performance at work. Substance abuse screening or counseling can also be ordered by the court, and this, too, can require a defendant to miss even more time from work. On the whole, the chances of getting thorough a DWI case without any impact upon the defendant’s work life are not great.

There are also administrative consequences for a DWI defendant’s driver’s license. The driver must meet all requirements and apply for reinstatement of his or her license through the Texas Department of Public Safety. As with most DMV matters, this process is neither quick nor pleasant. If a driver has temporary or restricted driving privileges reinstated, this requires yet another administrative process upon eligibility for reinstatement of full driving privileges.

There are many collateral consequences to any DWI conviction, even if it is the first offense. Defendants can protect their legal rights by consulting with an experienced Texas DWI attorney. Attorney Joseph J. Labella has over twenty years of experience in successfully defending DWI cases. He ensures that DWI defendants have their rights protected to ensure a just outcome for their legal cases.

“Second-Chance” Law Will Give Some Texas Dui Defendants A Break


Under the new “Second Chance” law, recent signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas DUI defendants would be allowed to have their criminal record sealed from public view – even if it happened many years ago.

House Bill 3016 is applicable to Class C misdemeanors charged for driving while intoxicated with a blood-alcohol concentration below 0.15. Those convicted of crimes of a violent or sexual nature would not be eligible for a reprieve under the statute.

The law will allow first-time DUI offenders who successfully completed a six-month stretch with ignition interlocks (as well as a number of other conditions) to apply for non-disclosure. That means the DWI charge will be removed from their record, making it easier for them to land employment, obtain housing and secure certain types of loans.

The provision will only be available to those who don’t cause any injury or property damages as a result of their actions. If an offender is not ordered to install an interlock or refuses to install the device, he or she must wait a full five years before becoming eligible for non-disclosure.

The law is an expansion of a similar measure from two years ago and was applicable to non-sexually-motivated Class A and Class B misdemeanors.

MADD Supports New Law

Interestingly, MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Driving – is in favor of the new law, even though it means certain convicted drunk drivers will essentially be able to wipe their records clean. The reason for the support has to do with the fact that it compels and incentivizes drivers to install and successfully use ignition interlock devices.

Texas is one of many states where a DWI offender can plead down a charge in order to sidestep the interlock ignition requirement. This law would give offenders an opportunity to walk away without a criminal record if they agree to use ignition interlocks.

Texas Transportation Code 521.246 stipulates that if a person’s license is suspended after a conviction for DWI, the judge is required to restrict the person to operation of a motor vehicle that is equipped with ignition interlock devices.

MADD reports ignition interlock devices have halted some 245,000 drunk driving attempts just in the state since 2006. Expanding this even further, they assert, will help save more lives.

Order of Non-Disclosure in Texas

In Texas, having a record expunged is only possible with a pardon. However, an order of non-disclosure (i.e., sealing a record) is possible only in some cases. Those circumstances include:

  • Placed on deferred adjudication community supervision for the offense in question;
  • Successful completion of deferred adjudication;
  • Offense must be eligible for non-disclosure (offenses are broad, but in general, serious, violent felonies and sexually-motivated offenses are not eligible);
  • No Disqualifying criminal history.

This new law provides an opportunity for a non-disclosure filing within six months, and it presents an opportunity for those who have already been convicted, as the provision applies retroactively.

Our experienced DWI defense lawyers in Houston can help you formulate a smart strategy to hopefully avoid conviction in the first place. In cases where that is not possible, we work to help you minimize the impact to your life. This law will be one more way in which we can work to help you diminish the long-term impact to your life.

New Texas DUI Blood Draw Law Could Challenge Houston Defense Attorneys


Texas will soon be seeing some changes in their warrant system. A new set of regulations designed to hasten the process of obtaining warrants for blood draws in DUI cases in on its way. The new technology is expected to alter the way drunk driving traffic stops operate in the Lone Star State.

According to, the technology was developed by Law Enforcement Advanced DWI/ DUI Reporting System (LEADRS), who are in the process of training municipal court judges in several Texas counties how to use the technology. Ordinarily, a DUI/DWI stop can take hours, but with technology that will allow an officer to send a blood warrant directly to a judge, who can review, sign and send the warrant back electronically. This eliminates the need for a sit-down warrant to be issued, which can make the process excruciatingly slow.

The feature is necessitated by the outcome in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Missouri v. McNeely. The question raised in that case was whether the natural dissipation of alcohol in one’s blood stream constitutes an exigency in every case sufficient to justify initiation of a blood test absent a warrant. Justices ruled it does not. That means if you do not consent to a blood draw when stopped for a DUI, police must first obtain a warrant to do so.

Failure to obtain a warrant for this purpose, as our Houston DUI defense attorneys can explain, can mean the results of that blood draw could be suppressed in court. If the court does suppress it, it may not be used against you to prove guilt.

Proponents of the LEADRS system say it serves to make the process of obtaining that warrant more streamlined. Rest assured our defense lawyers will be watching these procedural issues closely for any potential violation of a defendant’s rights.

One sergeant from the Leander Police Department (half hour outside of Austin) was quoted as saying a typical DWI traffic stop from beginning to end can take anywhere from four to six hours. That process involves finding a judge who must physically sign the warrant. This can take over an hour on its own.

In counties that do not have a magistrate available around-the-clock (some have offices in the local jail). In these situations, officers must drive to the judge’s house or else meet them somewhere to sign the warrant. All of this must happen prior to the suspect being transported to a local hospital to have the blood-alcohol test. In that frame of time, of course, a defendant’s blood-alcohol concentration level can drop. The pace at which one metabolizes alcohol can depend on a myriad of factors, including the individual’s size, tolerance, diet and personal body chemistry.

The new LEADRS system will allow officers to remain at the scene of the DWI traffic stop, where they can forward the warrant for a blood test directly to the judge electronically. The judge can review it, add their signature and then return it electronically to the officer at the scene.

This, officials say, will help authorities obtain a blood-alcohol reading that is more accurate to the time of driving, which they say in turn will make for a more effective prosecution.

While it’s certainly convenient, our defense lawyers see plenty of room for defendant rights to be sidestepped. For example, when an officer is standing directly before a judge, there is an opportunity for the judge to ask questions and seek further explanation. That does not exist with an electronic version. There is also concern judges may not pay proper attention to detail with electronic warrants.

The system is being tested as a pilot program in Leander and Liberty Hill. If it is deemed successful, it could be made available to all magistrates throughout Texas.

DWI cases can be extremely complicated, and the emergence of new technology to “streamline” the process can sometimes make it more complicated. If you or a loved one has been involved in a DWI incident, you need and deserve representation. Contact us today for a free case evaluation. We can help.

Can DUIs in Houston, TX Be Prevented by Ignition Interlock Devices?


Mothers Against Drunk Driving is a strong advocate of mandatory ignition interlock devices for all motorists. According to MADD, every state has some type of ignition interlock device, but only 28 states require ignition interlock devices after every conviction for impaired driving. In an effort to bolster its argument, MADD commissioned a study to determine how many drunk driving attempts were thwarted by the use of ignition interlock device.

Texas DUI AttorneyAccording to The Houston Chronicle, more than 27,000 attempts to drive drunk in Texas were prevented by the use of ignition interlock devices. Texas is already one of the states with strong ignition interlock device laws, as the law was changed in 2015 to allow judges to order the use of an ignition interlock device for all convicted offenders.

MADD’s new information is likely to reinforce the idea that widespread IID use is effective at stopping people from driving drunk. This means any motorist who is accused of drunk driving in Texas could potentially face the cost, hassle, and embarrassment of having to use an ignition interlock device. If you do not want to have such a device on your car, you’ll need to aggressively fight to avoid conviction if you are charged with a drunk driving offense. An attorney can help.

How Ignition Interlock Devices Affect Your Life 

Ignition interlock devices could potentially be required to be installed in any vehicle which a person convicted of DUI drives on a regular basis. The DUI offender must pay for the installation of these devices and for ongoing costs associated with them. The device requires the driver to blow into the device before starting the car to determine if his blood alcohol concentration is above the allowable limit. Because the car will not start until the device measures a motorist’s BAC, any person who uses the car with an ignition interlock device is going to have to blow into it.

When MADD’s report indicates 27,000 attempts to drive drunk were stopped, the report means there were 27,000 situations in which someone blew into an installed ignition interlock device and the BAC reading was too high so the car wouldn’t start driving. MADD’s report also looked at thwarted drunk driving attempts in other states and discovered an estimated 2.3 million attempts at drunk driving were stopped because of these devices.

States, including Texas, pass strict laws in their efforts to stop impaired motorists from operating vehicles. If ignition interlock devices are effective at preventing motorists from operating a vehicle while impaired, as this recent research suggests, lawmakers will continue to ensure DUI penalties can include installation of ignition interlock devices in as many situations as possible following conviction.

There may be no way to avoid an IID if you are convicted of DUI in Texas. It’s imperative for those accused of drunk driving to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

DUI Risks During Houston Spring Break


Texas criminal defense attorneyVisit Houston Texas has released a list of reasons why a spring break trip to the area is a good idea. The Azalea Trail, Pleasure Pier and the Houston Rodeo are among the attractions touted on their list.

While these may not be traditional spring break activities for college kids, some young people do visit Houston during spring break. Many come to Houston because their families and friends live locally and they want to catch up. Some college students stay in Houston because that’s where their permanent residence is. Others may not have the funds or desire to go to another destination for spring break.

Regardless of why college students find themselves in Houston for spring break, many have one thing in common: they will be enjoying the bars and nightlife Houston has to offer. Spring break is traditionally a time when college students enjoy imbibing, and the young people in Houston are no exception. While there is nothing wrong at all with adults of age having a few drinks to celebrate their vacation, one thing to keep in mind is that there is also a markedly higher increase in DUI arrests during spring break.

Impaired Driving Can Lead to Arrest

The chances of a DUI during spring break are significant if you drink alcohol before you drive. Local law enforcement officials are fully aware that spring break brings rowdy vacationers, and police tend to be more on the lookout for possible signs of impaired driving during this time.

If you are arrested for impaired driving, you need to be smart about your next steps. First and foremost, this means calling an attorney for help. It is always important for young people to get proper legal assistance because their whole lives are in front of them. Having a DUI on your permanent record could make it difficult for you to get a job or get into grad school. For some serious offenses related to drugged or drunk driving, there is also the possibility for felony charges, which could result in loss of eligibility for financial aid under certain circumstances.

Your attorney can help you to respond to the accusations against you, with the goal of reducing the charges or avoiding conviction entirely. Sometimes fighting the DUI is the best approach to cope with accusations of wrongdoing if you believe acquittal is possible. Your attorney can also help you to explore plea deals and other ways to reduce possible charges and consequences.

Responding to charges can become especially difficult if you were visiting Houston for spring break and got arrested for drunk driving in Houston while living elsewhere. You likely will need to return to Houston from your home state to face criminal proceedings for DUI and a license suspension in Houston will follow you to your permanent residence.

An attorney can help you to respond with the minimum of return trips back to Houston. Your attorney’s overall goal is to help you to get the best final outcome in a situation with many bad possibilities.

Will DWI Charges End Your Career as a Professional Driver in Texas?


Texas criminal defense attorneyCommercial drivers are subject to strict rules when it comes to alcohol impairment. Because the consequences of drunk driving could be severe if a motorist is operating a commercial truck while impaired, both state law and federal law are very strict about the impact of a DWI conviction on a commercial driver.

If you are accused of driving while impaired, you must understand the possible impact that a conviction could have on your continued ability to work in your chosen profession.  Getting a commercial license is hard work, but is worth it because you should be able to earn a good living as a truck driver or driver of passenger vehicles. You don’t want this opportunity taken from you because of a DWI conviction, so you should consult with an experienced attorney and vigorously defend yourself from charges if you are accused of wrongdoing.

If you have a commercial driver’s license, you should know there are a variety of different behaviors which could result in the imposition of penalties and which could lead to the suspension of your professional license. You should also be aware that even if your license is returned to you after a period of suspension, you may find it harder to get hired because trucking companies are reluctant to take a chance on someone with a DWI on their record.

Commercial drivers can face the consequences of a DWI charge not only for using alcohol, but also for using drugs or other impairing substances. You do not have to have a .08 Blood Alcohol Concentration to face consequences either. Commercial drivers in commercial vehicles can be in legal trouble if their BAC is .04 or higher.

Plus, whether you are in your own car or in a commercial vehicle,  Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations Section 383.51 indicates that your commercial license can be suspended for a one year period if you are simply convicted of refusing to take a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test when there is probable cause you were impaired by alcohol.

For some actions, like driving impaired while transporting hazardous material, a first time offense can result in a lengthy license suspension, with the loss of your commercial license for three years.  In other cases, you could actually have your license taken away permanently, such as when you are convicted of a second refusal to take a BAC test or when you are convicted of a second DWI.

Federal laws are clear that there are no exceptions to these suspensions for a conviction. To be able to keep your license, that means you will have to successfully fight against being found guilty. You should talk with a DWI defense lawyer as soon as you can when you’ve been arrested or are under investigation so your attorney can start right away with helping you respond to charges and earn a dismissal or acquittal.

Do Ignition Interlock Devices Work to Stop Houston DUIs?


Texas DUI AttorneyIgnition interlock devices may be required for certain individuals who are convicted of driving while impaired by drugs. Texas Transportation Code section 521.246 establishes the rules regarding the use of ignition interlock devices. The devices are mandated for repeat offenders with multiple drunk driving convictions, as well as for certain convicted offenders who have a high blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

The costs of an ignition interlock device (IID) must be paid by the convicted defendant and the costs can often be quite substantial. The use of IIDs can be a big hassle for convicted defendants, especially as routine recalibration of the devices is typically required.

There has been a dedicated effort to greatly expand the use of ignition interlock devices across the United States, and today most states require at least some convicted DUI defendants to install IIDs in their vehicles.  There are even some advocacy groups who argue that every DUI defendant who is convicted should be required to get an Ignition Interlock Device.

However, even as the use of these devices expands, there are serious questions about whether they actually have an impact in prevention of drunk driving.

Ignition interlock devices make it difficult or impossible for someone to drive drunk during the time while the device is installed in a vehicle. The devices incorporate a breathalyzing test inside of the vehicle. The driver must blow into the breathalyzer test and have his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) tested before the car will start. Periodic retesting may occur as the motorist is driving.

Because the car cannot start when the driver is drunk, unless a sober person blows into the device for him, the devices generally do tend to prevent or at least reduce drunk driving rates during the time the devices are installed inside of a person’s vehicle.  However, this seems to be the extent of the benefit.

The Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability examined re-arrest rates in order to determine whether or not ignition interlock devices had long-term benefits of reducing the number of repeat DUI offenders. The research revealed that while rearrest rates did drop during the time the ignition interlock devices were actively being used on the vehicles, the recidivism rates returned to normal following the removal of the devices.

This result strongly suggests no actual change in attitude or behavior happens because of the installation of ignition interlock devices. The devices only serve as an additional cost and penalty for a defendant, and do not have a net positive impact on reducing drunk driving rates over the long-term.

If you are arrested for impaired driving, you should talk with an attorney to find out what your options are for trying to avoid a conviction and avoid the required use of ignition interlock devices on your vehicles.