A conviction for Driving while intoxicated, or DWI, can change your life forever. In addition to the obvious costs of taking a quick guilty plea there are several other less obvious effects of being convicted of DWI.
1) The fine … obviously enough. Fines for a first DWI commonly range in the area of $1000.
2) Court costs. Defendants that take guilty pleas pay hundreds of dollars in court costs.
3) Probation fees. For every month you are on probation you will have to pay the probation office additional fees.
4) Department of Public Safety surcharges. A first time DWI offender will have to pay at least $1000 a year for three years to get their license back. Repeat offenders or particularly bad cases have to pay even more… up to $2000 a year.
5) Classes. There are classes that people convicted of DWI must take. They must be paid for as well.
6) Alcohol evaluation. The state will evaluate you to determine if you are an alcoholic. You will pay for this as well. A drug evaluation can be part of the process as well, particularly if drug use is suspected as part of the DWI.
7) The “Victim Impact Panel”. DWI offenders sometimes must watch a tape about the effects of DWI on victims. Sometimes they are told the effects in person by the victims. This costs more money.
8) Ignition Interlock. A conviction can result in the installation of a device that you have to blow into to start your car. In addition to being somewhat embarrassing it is also very expensive. Judges can always order it installed and it is sometimes mandatory.
9) Insurance premiums. A conviction for DWI will raise your insurance premiums dramatically.
10) A criminal record. You will have a criminal record for the rest of your life. Murderers, Rapists and Robbers can receive “Deferred Adjudication” which can keep their crimes off of their records. Deferred Adjudication is not available for DWI. A conviction will stay on a person’s record until they die.
DWI cases have unique issues that other types of cases typically do not have. There are scientific and evidentiary issues that are unique to DWI cases.
The tests that officers ask a DWI suspect do on the side of the road are called Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. They are called “Standardized” because every officer in the United States is expected to do them the same way and look for the same things. The organization that sets forth the guidelines for doing these tests is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “N.H.T.S.A.”.
It is important that your attorney is very familiar with the NHTSA guidelines. Officers sometimes make fundamental errors in their application of the tests. Officers typically make at least small errors in the application of the tests. Often, these mistakes go unchallenged in court because a defense attorney is not familiar enough with the N.H.T.S.A. guidelines to catch every mistake.
HGN stands for Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. It is easily the most misunderstood of all the Field Sobriety tests. This is the test where the officer asks a suspect to follow a light. What the officer is looking for is a very specific type of shaking of the eyes known as “Nystagmus”
There are dozens of types of Nystagmus. The only one that the officer is looking for is “Positional Alcohol Nystagmus” Having alcohol in the body can cause a shaking of the eyes. The accuracy of officers doing these tests is disputable. There are some officers that do a great job and other officers that do not. Many scientists and defense attorneys are worried about the misapplication of these “tests”.
The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test is dangerous to a DWI defendant. Not only does the test seem scientific, it is also the only one that the jury can not see for themselves, because the eyes are too small to see on the video. If a defense attorney does not know how to challenge an officer’s conclusions, all the jury has to rely upon is a “scientific” test saying the defendant is guilty.
One Leg Stand
The “One Leg Stand” is the field sobriety test that involves standing on one leg for 30 seconds. The four things an officer looks for on this test is: keeping one’s foot up, swaying, raising one’s hands and hopping. It is possible to keep one’s foot up the entire time and fail the test. Anyone that makes any two of these mistakes, in the officer’s opinion, fails the test.
Walk and Turn
The “Walk and Turn” is the field sobriety test with which most people are familiar. It involves walking down a line, turning and walking back. There are very specific things that officers must observe including: starting too soon, not holding the starting position properly, stopping during the test, stepping off the line, taking too many steps, turning improperly and raising one’s hands during the test.
Anyone that makes any two of these mistakes, in the officer’s opinion, fails the test.
DWI Defense Considerations
Defending a DWI has a number of specific legal issues that are different than other cases. Just like a White Collar or Sex Crime Defense case, there are particular issues in a DWI case that are unique to these types of cases. These issues include, but are not limited to, the specialized scientific knowledge that is required as well as the DWI caselaw that is constantly changing.