Local attorney points out how easy it can be to risk it all on one wrong celebration
New Year’s celebrations can be entertaining and extremely memorable events, but going overboard by excessively drinking and deciding to drive can turn out to be very costly. One particular problem plaguing partiers, according to local criminal and civil defense attorney Mike Seiler, is that ignorance reins when it comes to DWI offenses.
“Not only do many people not know how severely a drunk-driving charge can negatively impact their lives, but they also are largely unaware about what it takes to get them over the legal limit,” said Seiler. “Everyone getting in their cars on New Year’s Eve are absolutely convinced that they are sober.”
Seiler has some points of interest for those who do make the irrevocably irresponsible decision to overindulge in drinking this weekend. “Here are a few things to seriously consider.”
- As with any criminal charge, a person charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI) is presumed innocent until proven guilty. If guilt is established (often through the defendant’s own plea or after a jury trial), the penalty will depend on state law, as well as on any aggravating circumstances (such as the presence of an open bottle of liquor in the car) and the defendant’s cooperation with the police.
- In all states, first-offense DUI or DWI is classified as a misdemeanor, and punishable by up to six months in jail. That jail time may be increased under certain circumstances.
- First Offense – After your first DWI offense in Texas, you may be fined up to $2,000 and spend between three and 180 days in jail. Additionally, your license may be suspended for up to two years, and there may be an annual surcharge of as much as $2,000 to keep your license for three years.
- A number of states’ court sentences may include alcohol teaching and prevention programs, treatment for alcohol abuse, assessment of a person for possible alcohol or drug dependency or addiction, and community service or victim restitution. The judge may recommend these steps instead of jail time or paying fines, most likely for a first offender. Or the judge may combine them with other penalties. In Texas, for example, minors convicted of a DUI must perform community service, in addition to any other penalties.
- For a DUI or DWI that’s been classified as a felony – either because the driver killed or injured someone or because it’s the driver’s third or fourth DUI – jail sentences of several years are not uncommon. Again, this depends on state law, the facts of the case, and the discretion of the judge at trial.
Mike Seiler has been on all sides of the courtroom – as judge, prosecutor and defender – and he knows the ugly reality of DWI convictions. “Your DWI problems don’t end at the arrest,” said Seiler. “This type of conviction will have an extreme adverse effect on your current job, your ability to obtain new employment, and, of course, your finances.”
Montgomery County’s “No Refusal” policy means that drivers who refuse to submit to sobriety testing will then be targeted for warrants to obtain blood samples, which will be used as evidence for a conviction. “No scientific tests are 100 percent accurate,” said Seiler. “These tests are being performed by human beings, often in the middle of the night. Mistakes do happen.”
These are a few tips for protecting yourself in the event you do find yourself pulled over:
- Less is more. If you are being detained, don’t say anything. Everything is being recorded by law enforcement and can be used against you in the courtroom.
- Call a lawyer. From the moment you are pulled over, your every move will be scrutinized. Call a lawyer to represent and advise you through the process.
- Politely decline a sobriety test. If you have reason to be concerned, you can decline taking the test. If you are in Montgomery County where the “No Refusal” policy is in effect, you can opt to blow into the meter and face the possibility of being arrested. Or you can refuse and await the blood sample warrant. Your attorney can advise you throughout this process.
- Cooperate with law enforcement at all times. There is no need to escalate a DWI stop into something worse. Be polite and respectful at all times. You don’t need a motivated peace officer calling up the District Attorney’s office to make sure you get what he or she thinks you have coming.
“Knowing your rights is your best defense,” said Seiler. “When that isn’t enough, contact an experienced, proven attorney who will fight to defend your rights on your behalf.”
Mike Seiler is an attorney specializing in criminal and civil defense for Montgomery County and surrounding areas. He began his legal career as a prosecutor, working for the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office for 16 years before being appointed to the 435th District Court by Governor Rick Perry. He resigned from the bench in 2016. Today, Seiler enjoys traveling around the state of Texas representing clients in all types of cases. He is one of very few attorneys in the region that have enjoyed successful careers in all three aspects of a courtroom – prosecutor, judge and defender. For more information on Seiler, visit www.theseilerlawfirm.com or call (281) 419-7770.