Law Office of George B. Dombart
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Law Office of George B. Dombart (210) 281-1394 DWI, Drug and Criminal Defense Attorney

The ALR Hearing: Making Lemonade

When the police arrest someone for a suspected DWI, there is a criminal charge filed. There is also a parallel civil case that starts — often unknown to the person arrested. This civil case is an Administrative License Revocation proceeding, or ALR. If the arrested person either refused to give a breath or blood sample, or gave a breath or blood sample and failed, the State will try to suspend his or her driver’s license for 90 to 180 days. The ALR process is automatic, and if the person arrested does nothing, his or her license will be automatically suspended, even if that person doesn’t know the proceeding is happening.

Once this train gets rolling down the tracks, it’s hard to stop. The only way to derail it is to send the DPS a request for an ALR hearing, either by fax or by mail, and the request must be received by DPS within fifteen days after the arrest. This will temporarily stop the ALR process until you have a hearing before an administrative law judge to decide whether the DPS can legally suspend your license.

Many lawyers see the ALR hearing as a waste of time; just postponing the inevitable suspension. But we have found that not only can these hearings be won, they may actually be the best thing that ever happened to the DWI defense bar. To understand this, you have to first know two things: 1. The ALR process is very technical, and suspension can often be avoided simply by outworking the DPS lawyers. 2. Win or lose, the ALR hearing can provide the criminal defense lawyer with valuable discovery that could not otherwise be obtained.

Regarding the first issue, the ALR process is technical and rules-bound. The burden of proof is on the Department of Public Safety, and every step of the way the Department must jump through a lot of hoops to make sure their evidence is admissible at the hearing. If they miss just one of those hoops, the Judge may not allow the Department to put on any evidence at all, which means the defendant wins by default. In baseball terms, the tie goes to the runner. This is one reason it is important to be represented by counsel at an ALR hearing; the ALR request is just the first step in derailing the train, and a lot of other steps are required to hold the Department to its burden of proof.

But secondly, win or lose, the ALR hearing can be an invaluable tool in fighting a criminal DWI case. In civil cases, the rules allow the parties to the case to engage in "discovery," a process that allows each side to learn in advance what the other side’s evidence will be. Discovery includes taking the depositions of the witnesses for the other side, under oath, and allows the lawyers to prepare their case for trial without surprises. Not so in a criminal case. When a person’s liberty is at stake, the legislature and the courts have consistently held that the defendant has no right to discover in advance what the witnesses against him will say, or what the other evidence against him will be.

At the ALR hearing, your lawyer can call the arresting officer to the stand and cross-examine him about the arrest, under oath and on the record. The ALR rules require that the hearing be held within 40 days of the arrest. The criminal case may take anywhere from 6 months to a year to be disposed of. Therefore, the ALR hearing gives your lawyer a chance to prepare for the criminal case, without surprises.

For this reason, we insist that every client that hires us to defend a DWI also retain us for the ALR, if applicable. The fee for the ALR hearing is built in to the fee we quote to handle the whole case, since we consider the two to be part of the same "package" of proceedings against you. Whether you choose this firm or another one, you should also insist that your lawyer handle the ALR hearing as part of the package. If you are considering hiring a lawyer to handle a DWI and he or she tells you their firm "doesn’t do" ALR hearings, or that the hearings are a "waste of time," you should consider hiring a different lawyer. A lawyer cannot adequately prepare a DWI defense without the ALR hearing.

Choosing a Lawyer to Represent You on a DWI

"I’m guilty, so I’ll just take my medicine."

If you’ve been arrested for drunk driving, don’t even think about proceeding without a lawyer. A person who represents himself or herself in court has a fool for a client. You need a good lawyer, even if you're guilty.

First, even if you believe that you're guilty, that doesn’t mean that you are legally guilty. An experienced lawyer can evaluate the strength of the proof against you in ways that you cannot do yourself.

Second, there are a lot of "technical" defenses to what may seem like an open and shut case. For example, a major issue in every case is whether the police overstepped their bounds and unlawfully stopped, arrested, tested and charged you. A good lawyer will evaluate whether you were treated properly. If your rights were violated, there may be no case against you.

Finally, even if you are legally guilty, the help of a good lawyer is critical in limiting the damage that a DWI conviction can have on your family, your life and your livelihood. A good lawyer will direct you to the help and counseling that you may need to rebuild and restore your life after the damage of alcohol and a DWI case. Of course, a good lawyer can minimize the penalties, such as jail and license suspension.

Consider that a first-time DWI conviction in Texas can result in up to 180 days in jail, a $2,000.00 fine, court costs, and driver’s license suspension for up to a year. Even a probated sentence can result in two years probation (with probation fees of $50 per month), a $2,000.00 fine, court costs, 6 days in jail as a condition of probation, and driver’s license suspension for up to a year. In addition, DPS will charge a $1,000.00 per year "supervisory fee" on your driver’s license for three years after the conviction. With the stakes this high, it is important to choose a lawyer experienced in fighting the case where possible, and in damage control where necessary.

Choose A Lawyer Experienced In Fighting DWI Cases.

There are various kinds of lawyers out there, and you will need to know how to choose. In general, you will find the following:

  • Court-appointed attorneys
  • Discount lawyers
  • Expensive criminal and DWI lawyers
  • Extremely expensive criminal and DWI lawyers

Avoid the discount lawyer. You will get only what you pay for, and that won’t be much. Discount lawyers make their money by handling a high volume of cases or by maintaining unreasonably low office overhead (no secretary, etc). Often, these lawyers are not skilled in analyzing and defending cases. Rather, they are skilled in quickly disposing of cases by guilty pleas to maintain their profit margin.

This may be true even if the lawyer handles a significant number of drunk driving cases. Most likely, few of these cases are fought rather than plea-bargained.

If you are thinking about going with a court appointed lawyer, be aware that you do not get to choose your attorney.  You may be lucky and get a qualified attorney or you may get somebody that just passed the bar exam.  also, be aware that a court appointed attorney is not a free attorney.  If you plea bargain your case or lose at trial with a court appointed attorney, you will have to pay attorney's fees.  

Your best choice is a reasonably priced DWI specialist. Be careful, however, that your lawyer is experienced in fighting DWI cases. Many lawyers handle a lot of DWI cases, but do not fight them and do not have the special training and experience necessary to evaluate and fight these types of cases. Attorneys who focus on fighting DWI cases will probably handle only criminal cases, although they may also handle other types of litigation such as personal injury. These lawyers will have extensive experience in DWI law, and understand the special complexities of a drunk driving case. In fact, these lawyers will usually be far more experienced in DWI cases than the ultra-high priced pre-eminent criminal lawyers. In Bexar County, these lawyers may charge retainers in the $5000.00 range, depending on the severity of the offense, with additional fees for trial. Further, a lawyer who has a reputation as a fighter tends to be able to negotiate the better plea bargains, when necessary.  Avoid the high volume guilty plea specialist.

Whether you choose our firm or another, get the best lawyer that you can afford, not the cheapest one that you can find. The consequences of a DWI conviction are too great to consider hiring the low bidder.