Contributed by John Baureis
If you received a DWI in Benton or Washington County, Arkansas or any part of Northwest Arkansas or the River Valley you need to understand your rights. The purpose of this answer is to tell you what to expect once you’ve been charged with a DWI in Arkansas. The DWI attorney in our firm, Andrew Miller, has experience both defending DWI clients but also has prosecuted them as a city attorney. We have experience in teaching police officers the appropriate rules in making a DWI arrest. That is the type of experience and expertise that our attorneys can bring to your case. Contact us by either calling our number (479-621-0006) or clicking here.
First, it is important to understand the difference between a DWI (driving while intoxicated) and a DUI (driving under the influence). Although many people use the terms DWI and DUI interchangeably, there are some major differences in Arkansas. DUI’s are applicable only to people under the age of 21 and carry penalties that are not as severe as a DWI. Someone under 21 can still be charged with a DWI if their blood alcohol content is high enough but that is beyond the scope of this article. A DWI is committed when a person is operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 (eight hundredths) or higher or is operating a vehicle while “intoxicated.” The “intoxicated” part of the statute is designed to prohibit operating vehicles under the influence of intoxicants other than alcohol such prescription or non prescription drugs. he purpose here is to tell you what to expect once you’ve been charged with a DWI in Arkansas.
Once you have been arrested and charged with DWI, the officer, before you are released, will take your drivers license and give you at least three different forms. The first form will be the ticket or citation. This will explain that you have been charged with DWI and when and where your first court appearance will be held. The second form will be a temporary driving permit which will allow you to continue driving for 30 days (unless your license is already suspended for other reasons). The third form will be to request a hearing from the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) to determine your eligibility to have your license reinstated. You MUST send the DFA form in to the DFA office in Little Rock within 7 days of being arrested. If you do not send it in within that time frame, they will deny your right to a hearing and impose the suspension that they see fit. They will set the hearing (if requested timely) within 20 days of receiving your form. If it is filed on time you should always have your hearing before your 30 driving permit expires. (7 days to file + 20 days to set = 27 days).
The important issue to keep in mind during this process is that you have two different courses of action occurring. The first is the pending criminal case and the second is the drivers license issue with the DFA. At your hearing the DFA will determine whether or not you qualify for a restricted license or to have an interlock device installed on your vehicle for the duration of your suspension. Whether or not you refused the blood alcohol content test (BAC), how high your alcohol content levels were, whether you were intoxicated due to alcohol or drug ingestion, and whether this is your first DWI can all effect how long the suspension lasts and what type of conditions you will be subjected to during the suspension. Our attorneys have had much experience representing clients in front of the DFA office and assisting with getting the least restrictive suspension. The burden of proof for the state in a DFA hearing is very low and the hearing officers are very limited in what options they can offer but a knowledgeable attorney can sometimes get the suspension dropped for technical reasons.
If your license is suspended after the hearing you will be required to do several things to get your license back from the State. The DFA usually charges a fee to reinstate the license and you will be required to get assessed for an alcohol awareness course and complete that course through a state approved agency. Completion of this course is also required by the Court in the criminal case if you are found guilty or enter a guilty plea. IF you are successful at defending your DWI case in court you can occasionally get the suspension lifted.
The court date that appears on your citation is called an arraignment and is for the purpose of going before the Court to enter a “guilty” or “not guilty” plea. It is not advisable to enter a “guilty” plea before the court at arraignment because you subject yourself to the full range of punishment including jail time without having had a chance to review the evidence against you. If you plead “guilty” the judge will sentence you as he sees fit within the bounds of the law. If you plead “not guilty” you will likely be advised to speak to an attorney and will be given a new court date.
It is very important to make all of your court dates unless told otherwise by your attorney. Your attorney will review the evidence against you and determine if it is in your best interest to take the case to trial or to accept a plea agreement from the prosecutor. The ranges in punishment for a DWI are very wide and depend on the individual case. Your level of intoxication, whether a wreck was involved, the presence of children, whether other charges were filed, prior alcohol related offenses, and the specific facts of your case all play a role in determining what a reasonable plea agreement is on a given DWI charge. The evidence used in a DWI case is very technical and must be obtained in a very specific manner. There may well be times that, although you were intoxicated, the police officer did not conduct himself correctly and you find yourself getting a “not guilty” verdict at trial.
A DWI charge is a very complex thing and has many different issues that need to be addressed. It can affect your job, you family, and your future. Most attorneys offer free consultations and with a DWI it is advisable to use these services. The DWI attorney in our firm, Andrew Miller, has experience both defending DWI clients but also has prosecuted them as city attorneys. We have experience in teaching police officers the appropriate rules in making a DWI arrest. That is the type of experience and expertise that our attorneys can bring to your case. Contact us by either calling our number (479-621-0006) or clicking here.