For the first time in decades, first-time drunken-driving offenders could get deferred adjudication under a bill the Senate Criminal Justice Committee considered Tuesday.
Current law does not allow deferred adjudication for DWI offenses, and many first-time offenders either take jail time or plead guilty to other, lesser crimes. In an effort to reduce the backlog of drunken driving cases in Texas courts and to increase the number of people who receive treatment for alcoholism, state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has filed a measure that would give judges discretion to sentence first-time offenders to deferred adjudication.
Historically, deferred adjudication has allowed offenders to complete terms of a probation-like sentence, which usually include counseling, and then have the charge removed from their criminal record.
Under Patrick's proposal, the first offense would remain on the offender's record — even if the terms of supervision were completed — and it could be considered in any future DWI cases to enhance the penalties against the offender.
"It looks like we’re not being tough," Patrick said, but if it's adopted, he added, the measure would result in more drunken drivers facing harsher penalties for repeat offenses. "This gives us a chance put more people who are habitual DWI offenders in jail and off the streets."
Defense attorneys, though, testified against the bill, calling it disingenuous. They said most people believe taking deferred adjudication will mean the charge will be removed from their record so it can't be used against them in the future. But that's not what Patrick's measure does. George Milner, a Dallas defense lawyer and former prosecutor, said the bill would not likely accomplish the goals Patrick espoused. "If a citizen who is accused truly understands the ramifications of this, they won’t take the deal," he said.
The bill was left pending.