Written by attorney James Parker Layrisson

How to handle a DWI citation

Should I treat a DWI citation like any other traffic ticket?

Unlike typical traffic tickets, a citation for driving while intoxicated (DWI) poses an urgent and considerable threat to your freedom, wealth, and reputation. Consequently, you should immediately hire a qualified DWI defense lawyer to guide you through the complicated process. Failure to hire the right attorney in time could forever prejudice your rights. In Louisiana, DWI is a serious crime. It is punishable by imprisonment, fines, probation, and suspension of driving privileges, among other penalties. If you have been arrested for DWI, you face two separate legal proceedings: (1) criminal prosecution in city or district court; and (2) administrative driver’s license suspension by state’s office of motor vehicles. Criminal prosecution is the more important of the two legal proceedings because conviction can result in jail time, fines, probation, community service, and other burdensome penalties. DWI conviction can also tarnish your permanent criminal record, resulting in lost employment, educational, and personal opportunities. Conviction can further haunt you by drastically increasing penalties in future DWI cases. Finally, DWI criminal conviction can cause your insurance rates to skyrocket, costing you thousands in additional premiums. In most cases, the district or city court will schedule the first mandatory criminal court appearance, the arraignment, within a few months of the DWI arrest. At arraignment, the judge will read you the charges, ask you to enter an initial plea, and assign you subsequent court dates for motions, pre-trial conference, and/or trial. After the arraignment, you have only 15 days to file written motions with the court requesting obtainable evidence and asserting relevant defenses. The administrative driver’s license suspension process moves even faster than criminal court. Under Louisiana law, refusal to take or failure to pass a chemical breath test results in an automatic suspension of your driver’s license by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety, Office of Motor Vehicles. Typically, the arresting officer will confiscate your license upon arrest. To challenge the driver’s license suspension, you must request a hearing before an administrative law judge within only 15 days of arrest. You should also subpoena the arresting officer(s) to appear at the hearing. In addition to providing your only opportunity to reclaim your full driving privileges, the administrative law judge hearing usually presents the first (and best) opportunity to question the arresting officer about your DWI arrest and review the police report. Considering the harsh ramifications of DWI conviction and the short 15-day deadlines applicable in both the criminal court and administrative proceedings, you should retain a qualified DWI defense lawyer as soon as possible to fight your charges. Making the mistakes of not hiring a lawyer, hiring the wrong lawyer, or even hiring the right lawyer too late can doom your case forever.

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