First-time DWI? You’re in luck, Texans. This historically law-and-order state has come to the conclusion that a little leniency for first-time DWI, DUI, and misdemeanor defendants is a good thing for society. If your first-time DWI was for a blood alcohol content of less than 0.15, or if you are a class C misdemeanor defendant, you can be the benefactor of the new “second chance” law. And the law is retroactive so you can take advantage of the new leniency even if your DWI was years ago.
In June 2017, the “second chance” law (HB 3016) became official. We believe this is part of a new philosophy of criminal law that forgives first-time offenders for a mistake that has ordinarily been life-altering in a very negative way. Under the new “second chance” law, first-time DWI defendants can ask the court to seal their criminal record after they’ve served their sentence, preventing the conviction from affecting their jobs, housing, and personal lives.
The First Time (DWI) Is The Right Time… To Set Things Straight
For many first DWI defendants, the black mark on their records is more damning than any punishment meted out by the court. A public DWI conviction is legal grounds in Texas for an employer to fire you or to deny you employment during the application process. It can also get you denied for housing and loans. What else? Our other “second chance” law article lists a few of the doors that get slammed shut in the faces of people who have public misdemeanor convictions. This list includes possibly being denied the opportunity to serve as the executor of a relative’s estate, to practice law, or to receive disaster assistance.
“Many people think that a misdemeanor conviction is no big deal,” says DWI expert James Gill. “The sad truth is that a misdemeanor can be crippling for many Texans.” In fact, the TIME Magazine article “A Misdemeanor Conviction Is Not a Big Deal, Right? Think Again” says that there are thousands of doors that can get slammed on DWI offenders: “In all, there are over 45,000 state and federal consequences for [misdemeanor] convictions.” The consequences are often the same as those for felonies, yet there are fewer ways for expunging them from your record. There’s even an American Bar Association website dedicated to these consequences, called The National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction.
The long-term consequences of these consequences and closed doors is that many first-time DWI defendants find their lives less stable and, in some cases, more prone to illegal sources of income. Christian Watts, the misdemeanor defendant interviewed by TIME, says, “It’s like I have a black mark on me… my life is stuck in a standstill.”
First-Time DWI Defendants Receive Some Texas Grace
The good news, of course, is the “second-chance” law. The law allows first-time DWI defendants to ask for a “non-disclosure,” which seals the record from the public. Of course, the record is still visible to police and people with legitimate business reasons to see it. For defendants who are innocent of a DWI yet were convicted unjustly, due to legal mistakes or the lack of a qualified Austin DWI lawyer, this law is even more of a boon, allowing them to resume their lives as normal.
The “second chance” law also compliments the ignition interlock rules; DWI defendants can complete six months of sober driving with the interlock to qualify for the sealing of their records. Such defendants must also complete two years of probation before the non-disclosure can be requested.
“Now a single bad decision is not going to ruin careers and lives,” says Austin DWI lawyer James Gill. “And with the interlock, a DWI defendant can make their conviction private after six months. We’re very happy to see this change taking place in Texas.”