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October 2015 - Robert Littlefield Buford III, Attorney at Law

Can I Lose my Car for a DWI?

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Lose Car for DWI

The consequences of a DWI can prove significant and life-changing, but a conviction does not automatically subject you to the loss of your vehicle. However, there are several situations which may ultimately result in your losing ownership of your car, including repeat DWI convictions and the presence of any evidence in the car. Even if you maintain ownership of your vehicle, your conviction may result in the denial of your ability to freely operate it as you wish. In any case, a Austin DWI attorney can help.

Held for Evidence

Pursuant to a DWI arrest, law enforcement agents may decide to hold your vehicle for evidence. This is particularly true if you were involved in an accident subsequent to the arrest. Upon examination of the accident scene and the automobile, law enforcement agents may assert that damage to the vehicle or the condition of the car is evidence to be used in any criminal prosecution stemming from the automobile accident. If this determination is made, the state may seize your car for the duration of any criminal proceedings.

Officers may also seize your vehicle in situations where contraband is found inside of the car. During a DWI arrest, law enforcement may search or inventory the contents of the car. If culpatory evidence is found inside, law enforcement may choose to seize the car in addition to whatever items were located inside of it.

Towing and Storage Fees

Another way that a DWI can lead to the loss of your automobile is a situation where your car is towed pursuant to arrest. This generally occurs when there is no sober party available to drive your car after your arrest. Law enforcement will arrange for towing of your auto to a storage lot, where it will sit until you retrieve it. However, the cost of the tow is passed on to you, along with storage fees. Additionally, each day that your car remains in storage, you are charged an additional fee. These fees can add up over time and you may find yourself in a situation where you are unable to pay them. After a set amount of time with no payment, the storage company may place a lien on the car. If you are still unable to satisfy the debt, you may lose ownership of your vehicle.

A Felony DWI

Under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, law enforcement can seize contraband under suspicion that it was used or involved in some type of serious criminal activity. Contraband is personal, real or intangible property that was used in the commission of a first or second degree felony. The statute allows for seizure of property used in violation of the Texas DWI statute, when the offender has three convictions. Under this definition, a DWI third will subject the involved vehicle to a contraband forfeiture by law enforcement. Once law enforcement has your vehicle, they can use it or sell it for the agency’s profit.

Ignition Interlock Device

Though you may keep your car after your DWI arrest, you may still be faced with restrictions on your ability to use it. The courts may order the placement of an ignition interlocking device on your vehicle to prevent you from driving while under the influence of alcohol. You must blow into a breathalyzer before driving the car. The vehicle will not turn on if the presence of alcohol is detected.

Though vehicle loss is not an automatic part of a DWI conviction, there are several scenarios that may result in a loss of your vehicle. If you are facing DWI charges, protect your freedom and your property by contacting the Austin DWI lawyers at The Law Office Of Robert L. Buford. We possess the knowledge and experience to provide you with an aggressive defense.

Can I Get a DWI if I Wasn’t Driving at the Time?

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DWI not driving

Most people assume that a DWI charge requires the act of driving at the time of your encounter with law enforcement. However, within the state of Texas, it is possible to receive a DWI charge when you are not actually driving a vehicle. In fact, you may receive charges even though you were not even inside of a car. While this scenario may seem ridiculous, it is a very real possibility with very real potential consequences without the assistance of a capable Austin DWI attorney.

Deciphering the Statute

Section 10 of the Texas Penal Code makes it a crime for an intoxicated person to operate a motor vehicle in a public space. It is generally a Class B misdemeanor and requires a minimum of 72 hours confinement. Even though the statute is called “Driving While Intoxicated”, it uses the word “operate” instead of the word “drive”. The legislature did not provide a definition for the term “operate,” which has opened it up to interpretation by the courts. Various Texas courts have ruled that “operate” applies when a person exerts control over a motor vehicle. As exemplified by past cases, this definition may include incidents such as:

  • An intoxicated person sitting in the driver’s seat of the vehicle, with the keys in the ignition to play music on the radio; and
  • An intoxicated person who is involved in a one-vehicle accident, who is not operating the vehicle at the time of law enforcement arrival, but does have control of the vehicle keys.

In both of the scenarios, the accused is not driving the vehicle at the time of arrest, but there may be probable cause to support an argument for “operation” of a motor vehicle.

Defending the Charge

When establishing a case for operation of a vehicle, the state may rely on a number of factors, including:

  • Your physical proximity to the vehicle may show that you were not driving it at the time of arrest, but you had driven it recently;
  • Eyewitness statements that you previously operated the vehicle; An admission of guilt; and
  • Physical evidence of your having recently operated the vehicle.

When defending your case, an experienced attorney may employ a variety of tactics, based on the fact that you were not driving when the DWI arrest was made. He may attack the credibility of any eyewitness, or work to have your confession suppressed, along with any additional evidence that may have been obtained illegally.

What if the State Meets the “Operation” Requirement?

Even if the state proves that your actions fell within the parameters of “operating” a motor vehicle, prosecutors must still prove that you were intoxicated during the time of operation. This is where your proximity to the car comes into play, along with the time between any related incident and your arrest by law enforcement officials. The possibility of receiving a DWI charge for an incident where you were not actually driving is very possible. However, an experienced attorney can assist you with a successful defense. Contact the aggressive Austin DWI attorneys at The Law Office Of Robert L. Buford. We will advocate for a fair outcome, while working to protect your rights along the way.

How Your Insurance Will be Affected After a DWI and How To Minimize the Damage

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Insurance Affected after DWI

The repercussions of a DWI conviction can be extensive. Not only are you at risk of losing your driving privileges and even your freedom through a mandatory minimum jail sentence, but the financial hit can be quite large. Why? Because if you have a DWI on your record, insurance companies categorize you as a “high risk” driver and your insurance rates may rise sharply.

How Steep Will the Premium Hike Be After a DWI?

It’s a good question and depends on a variety of factors. The car insurance company you are with and how they choose to enforce the terms of your policy will play a major role. For example, some auto insurance companies review a DWI conviction on a case-by case basis factoring in your driving history, age, length of time you’ve been with the insurance company, and so forth. Other companies have much stricter policies applying to all drivers convicted of a DWI. They may have a mandatory minimum premium increase based on a percentage of your current premium or they could even make the decision to drop your coverage.

How Does Being Classified as “High-Risk” Affect Car Insurance

If your auto insurance policy is canceled or moved, you will probably end up in a high-risk pool of drivers. Many states are required, under law, to offer insurance to these high-risk pools. In the Lone Star State, there is the Texas Automobile Insurance Plan Association (TAIPA). This was created to help secure auto insurance for high-risk drivers who could not find coverage on the voluntary market, according to the Heartland Institute. You can get an auto insurance policy through TAIPA if at least two insurers have refused to offer you insurance coverage because of your high-risk status. This is certainly beneficial to DWI drivers, especially those that already have a poor driving record, because they will at least have an option for car insurance. However, the premium is not going to be cheap. In fact, it’s quite costly for just the legal minimum amount of liability coverage.

Mitigating the Damage of a DWI Conviction

Despite the possibility of a major premium increase, a DWI conviction does not necessarily mean you will be forever marked as a “high-risk driver.” In fact, there are proactive steps you can take to try and mitigate the damage of a DWI conviction. One step is taking a driver improvement course. Some courses are offered online, while others require in-class participation. When you complete the course, you usually get a certificate that you can send to insurance companies as proof that you’re working to change your ways and improve your driving judgment. Another step is to ensure, if you are a first-time DWI offender, to never get a second DWI. The premium increase may be high for a DWI offense, but drivers with multiple DWIs are much more likely to be deemed “high-risk” and may lose their auto insurance coverage. Finally, if you’re facing a DWI charge, hire an experienced Austin criminal lawyer to advocate for your rights.

Contact an Experienced Austin DWI Defense Attorney

DWI charges can be challenged in court. Remember, the state has the burden of proving that you were intoxicated. Even if there is sufficient evidence, a seasoned Austin criminal lawyer can negotiate with a prosecutor to try and reduce the charge. Contact The Law Office Of Robert L. Buford today and tell us what happened.