First-Time DWI Offenders Could Benefit from Proposed Texas Bill

The state of Texas used to offer deferred adjudication for first-time DWI offenders before groups in the mid-1980s began to oppose the program. Deferred adjudication meant that an offender could enter a guilty plea to the DWI charge, but if he or she successfully completed probation, the charges would be dismissed.

The groups that were once against deferred adjudication, convincing state law makers to end the program, are now seeing the benefits of having the program back. The Texas court system has been under examination to due to the high volume of court cases and backlogged cases. It is believed that many drunken drivers have been convicted with lesser charges than what they should have received because prosecutors are trying to keep up with the amount of cases coming into the court system. 

Groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving believe that deferred adjudication would give prosecutors a new option for drunken driving offenders, putting an end to reducing charges for individuals. "We could support a carefully crafted bill that made deferred available to true first offenders only, allowed prosecutors to use the deferred offense to enhance subsequent offenses," said the M.A.D.D. public policy liaison.

Currently in the state of Texas, first-time offenders face up to 180 days in the county jail and up to $2,000 in fines, or up to two years of probation with a $2000 fine. Under the proposed program, individuals would have to complete supervision and treatment for a first-time DWI offense. If successfully completed, the individual would not have a DWI conviction on their record. Offenders would have other options instead of just facing jail time and fees.

However, the proposed bill would not benefit all. Harsher penalties would be set in place for repeat offenders. Some are worried that the proposed bill would also lead to more arrests, making officers more inclined to pull people over that are "on the edge" of drunk driving.

Many first-time offenders who have never been in trouble with the law before do end up facing some harsh penalties when charged with a DWI in Texas. Although this bill would give first-time offenders the possibility to have a clean record, those with multiple offenses could face harsher penalties.

Source "DWI laws could shift toward treatment," Josh Hinckle, 29 Dec. 2010


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