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DWI / DUI Procedure in Travis and Williamson Counties

Travis County Misdemeanor DWI’s

Upon being released on bond, the DWI / DUI defendant is assigned an initial court setting, called a first appearance or first setting. It is set about a month into the future. If the defendant retains a lawyer prior to that date, the lawyer can reset the case without requiring the client to appear in court. The case remains on the first setting docket until the Travis County Attorney files its formal charging instrument, called an information, with the Travis County Clerk. After that, the case moves to the Announcement docket of the particular County Court at Law to which the case is assigned. The attorney by now has requested a copy of the on-the-scene videotape and the probable cause affidavit. The defendant does not have to appear at the Announcement docket.

The case next moves to the pre-trial docket. The first one or two settings on this docket are occasions for the defense lawyer to obtain “discovery” of the prosecutor’s case by examining and photocopying the law enforcement offense report, breath test printout (if any), criminal history of the defendant (if any), and other documents pertinent to the prosecution. The defense attorney and prosecutor may also engage in settlement negotiations after viewing the videotape. Since no witness testimony is required, these are designated as “pre-trial without witness” settings. They do not call for the defendant’s attendance.

If the discovery reveals legal issues needing to be resolved, such as the authority of the officer to detain or arrest the defendant for DWI or the possible suppression of the breath test due to an unauthorized and coercive statutory breath test warning, the defense lawyer may set the case for a formal pre-trial hearing and subpoena witnesses, typically police officers, to testify. If the judge grants a suppression motion it may force the prosecutor to dismiss the case, depending on whether the suppressed evidence is essential to the state’s case. The attorney may also present non-evidentiary pre-trial motions such as motions for discovery of prosecutorial evidence or witnesses at trial, and motions in limine to limit or foreclose the presentation of evidence at trial.

If the case is not settled at the pre-trial stage, the lawyer may place the case on the trial docket. The trial can be set before a jury, or if the defendant waives the right to a jury trial, before a judge. The non-jury trial is referred to as a trial before the court. The defense attorney may recommend either type of trial, depending on the trial strategy. If the anticipated trial issues are factual in nature, the attorney may recommend presenting them to a jury; if the issues are legal, the attorney may want the legally trained judge to decide them. However, the lawyer’s strategy may vary depending on the particular circumstances of the client’s case.

If the state and defense reach an agreement to settle the case by way of a plea bargain, the case is placed on the plea docket. This generally, though not always, calls for the defendant to plead no contest to the DWI or some substitute offense. See the discussion of possible dispositions at DWI / DUI Law. Prior to the plea setting, the attorney may want the defendant to complete an alcohol assessment to determine ahead of time what type of alcohol counseling will be required during the probationary period.

Travis County misdemeanor DWI’s resolved by a plea bargain usually are finished in six to eight months. If taken to trial, the case may last up to a year.

Williamson County Misdemeanor DWI’s

The procedure for a Williamson County misdemeanor DWI / DUI is similar to the Travis County procedure, with the following distinctions.

There is only one first appearance setting. The Williamson County Attorney either will file an information or a “decline prosecution” letter by the first appearance date. If the prosecution is declined, that is the end of the matter. If an information is filed, the case proceeds to the announcement docket. Prior to this docket, the attorney sends requests for a discovery packet and a copy of the field video. At the announcement setting, the defense attorney and defendant both appear in court. The attorney negotiates with the prosecutor and relays any plea bargain to the client. If an agreement is reached, the lawyer places the case on the plea docket for resolution. If not, the lawyer may place the case on the trial docket for a jury trial or trial before the court.

Pre-trial hearings in Williamson County generally are held in conjunction with the trial; however, the judge may grant a separate pre-trial hearing if the issue to be heard likely will determine the outcome of the prosecution.

Williamson County misdemeanor DWI’s resolved by a plea bargain usually are finished in four to six months. If taken to trial, the case may last six months to nine months.

Travis County Felony DWI’s

Upon being released from jail, the defendant is assigned a felony first appearance setting about a month into the future. Assuming a lawyer has been retained, the setting does not require the defendant’s appearance. The case generally remains on this docket until the prosecutor indicts the case. At that point, the case moves into the assigned district court for a “designation of attorney” setting. The defendant must appear at this setting. At this setting, the defense attorney obtains discovery from the prosecutor’s file.

The case then moves to the “pre-trial without witness” docket, where it remains while the defense lawyer and the prosecutor discuss the case and negotiate. If the case is settled, it moves to the plea docket; if not, it goes to the “pre-trial with witnesses” docket, where legal issues are litigated prior to trial. Depending on the issues involved in the case and the anticipated trial strategy, the defense attorney will place the case on the jury docket or the trial before the court docket. See the discussion of misdemeanor Travis County DWI’s, above.

Travis County felony DWI / DUI prosecutions typically take four months to a year to complete.

Williamson County Felony DWI’s

Williamson County felony DWI / DUI prosecutions proceed similarly to Travis County felony prosecutions, except that the defendant must appear at the initial appearance or appearances, referred to as the pre-indictment docket. After the pre-indictment docket, the case moves either to the plea docket or the pre-trial/trial docket.

Williamson County felony DWI / DUI prosecutions typically take four months to a year to complete.

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