Getting arrested and charged with a DWI is a stressful process that nobody wants to experience. It’s only natural to wish for your case to be processed quickly and for the whole nightmare to come to a swift resolution. Unfortunately, even simple DWI cases can take months to resolve.
Learning more about DWI court proceedings can help you understand why your case is taking so long. In this post, we’ll shed light on the process and offer tips on what you can do to help expedite your case.
Duration of DWI Case Proceedings
The length of your DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) case can be influenced by several factors, including the complexity of the case, the prosecutor’s workload, a case backlog at the court, and the length of time it takes for evidence to be collected.
DWI case proceedings involve several stages, including:
- Evidence collection: The “discovery” stage of the court case, when both the defense and prosecution may be collecting or waiting on evidence, can delay the trial process. During this time, evidence, including police reports, chemical test results from labs, witness testimonies, and other relevant evidence, will be gathered.
- Investigation: Once the evidence has been collected, both parties will need time to analyze and investigate the circumstances of the alleged DWI offense. If this leads to follow-up witness interviews or search warrants (for gathering more evidence), it can lead to further delays.
- Negotiations: If the defense attorney and the prosecutor engage in negotiations to try to reach a plea bargain, this could take time as both parties go back and forth until they come to an agreeable arrangement, such as a shorter sentence, lesser charges, or deferred adjudication. This negotiation can take several pretrial conferences, which the defendant might not necessarily need to attend.
- Trial: If you exercise your right to a jury trial, it will take time for the jury to be selected and the court date scheduled. The length of time needed for this will depend on court and resource availability, which can vary significantly. Some defendants may find themselves waiting for several months to over a year while the system deals with older cases—or cases where the defendant is held in custody. Generally, older cases and cases that involve someone in custody take precedence.
Complex cases that involve serious bodily injury, death, or significant property damage can take longer to resolve. Furthermore, additional charges related to the DWI can also increase the duration of the proceedings.
In some complex DWI cases, either party may need to call in expert witnesses and professionals, such as accident reconstruction specialists. The trial may be delayed to accommodate such witnesses.
Timeline for Gathering Evidence
The period of the DWI case when both the prosecution and defense are collecting crucial evidence is called the “discovery” phase. The timeframes required to obtain each piece of evidence can vary depending on location, backlog, availability, and resources.
A crucial piece of evidence that the defense will want to review pre-trial is the video recording of the DWI arrest, usually taken from the law enforcement officer’s bodycam. It can take anywhere between 1–5 months to obtain this footage. If you are facing charges, this may seem like an excruciatingly long time to you, but this footage can reveal mistakes in the arrest procedure that could potentially help get the DWI case dismissed.
If the DWI arrest involved a blood test—whether through a mandatory blood draw or otherwise—it can take months for the results to be returned. This timeframe will largely depend on the lab the test was sent to and their backlog. Many DWI blood tests in Texas are sent to the Toxicology section of the Texas DPS crime laboratory, where results can take 3–6 months. Furthermore, if the lab is required to look for substances other than alcohol, the wait can be extended for several weeks beyond this.
Your defense lawyer will seek additional evidence, including police officer reports. It can take months for these requests to be fulfilled.
Sometimes, external experts are brought in to analyze aspects of the case. For example, your defense attorney may employ an accident reconstruction expert to offer additional insights that could absolve you from causing an accident. Depending on the availability and schedule of such professionals, the discovery phase could be prolonged.
Negotiation Stages and Legal Complexities
Before arraignment, the defense and prosecution may hold several pre-trial conferences where evidence is reviewed. During this time, the defense can request further evidence, including jail records, witness statements, and more.
Once the evidence has been reviewed, the defense and prosecution may enter negotiations. Depending on the strength of the prosecution’s case and the severity of the DWI—i.e., the presence of aggravating factors, both sides may be able to come to an agreement. The duration of the negotiation phase can vary wildly on a case-by-case basis. Even if the prosecution makes an offer, if it isn’t favorable, your DWI attorney may go back with a counteroffer to try to push for a better outcome. Generally, a plea bargain DWI case may be resolved in a year. However, if the case moves toward a jury trial, it can be significantly prolonged.
Challenges in Planning Relocation
DWIs are never convenient, but even a simple 1st offense can upend a person’s plans when it happens at the worst time possible. For some individuals, relocating during a pending DWI charge is simply not achievable.
If you need to travel out of state and have pending DWI charges, you should consult your defense attorney first to see if the conditions of your bond permit you to do so.
If you have been released on bail or bond, if the judge has restricted your travel, leaving the state could result in a warrant being issued for your arrest. Even if you are permitted to travel, however, you must show up for certain court proceedings, or else—again—risk being arrested and brought back to jail.
Furthermore, when applying for a new license in another state, the local DMV will run routine checks that will bring up your driving record, including a suspension, restriction, or revocation from another state. Unfortunately, you can’t leave your DWI unresolved.
DWI cases are challenging, but they can be solved with help from an experienced DWI defense attorney. If you’ve been charged with a DWI at a time when you’re planning to relocate, you should speak to a criminal defense lawyer openly and frankly about it to see what your options are.
Disparities in Processes Across Counties
The duration of your DWI case can differ depending on your location. DWI laws, processes, and legal standards vary across different jurisdictions. This, combined with case-specific factors, such as the type of evidence required, the complexity of the case, and whether it requires a jury trial, makes it impossible to tell with certainty how long each DWI case will take.
The availability of resources and staffing at courts, labs, and elsewhere across the legal system will invariably impact the time it takes for a DWI case to be processed. For example, where some states may have a better availability of judges, there may be delays during the discovery phase because of a backlog at the toxicology lab.
Constitutional Rights and Legal Realities
The 6th Amendment of the Constitution grants every citizen the right to a speedy trial. The law is designed to protect defendants from unfair circumstances, as evidence—
including witness testimonies—can deteriorate over time, making it more difficult to put up a defense.
However, waiting a year, or even two years, for the resolution of a complex DWI case does not necessarily mean that your right to a speedy trial has been violated. To determine if there’s been a violation of the right, the judge will consider several factors, including:
- The length of the delay: The judge may consider the total duration of the delay relative to similar cases. What seems like a long wait may be standard for your state and the charges you’re facing.
- The reason for the delay: If there has been a delay, the judge will consider the reasons for the delay. When it comes to DWI cases, most delays happen for justifiable reasons, like waiting for crucial evidence to be returned, giving both parties adequate time to prepare their cases, or having to accommodate conflicting schedules. However, if the delay was caused by negligence or intentional stalling, the judge may consider whether you were denied your right to a speedy trial.
- The prejudicial effect on the case: The judge will consider whether the delay has negatively impacted you through prolonged incarceration without a conviction or unfair evidentiary prejudice—where the strength of your defense case has been impaired because of the delay.
In reality, for most DWI cases, both parties require several months to prepare their cases adequately, and most people are released on bail soon after their initial court appearance. However, the right to a speedy trial is precisely why older cases and cases that involve an incarcerated defendant take priority in court.
Defense Attorney’s Role in Case Timelines
A skilled and experienced defense attorney will know the DWI process inside and out, including the timelines associated with each stage of the case. They can navigate the legal process and seek the correct evidence from the beginning, thereby curbing unnecessary delays.
A skilled DWI attorney can also negotiate with prosecutors and advocate for an efficient and favorable case resolution that could entail lesser charges or deferred adjudication. In either case, a plea bargain would be resolved faster than if the case went to trial.
Importance of Consulting with an Attorney for Prolonged DWI (DUI) Case Proceedings
If the length of your DWI process is causing you anxiety, you should consult with an experienced DWI attorney. They can identify why your case is taking so long and inform you about updates and complications. If you haven’t entered a plea yet, you should consult your attorney on whether a plea bargain would be in your best interest. In some cases, for example, if your attorney believes the case could be dismissed entirely, they may advise you to fight the charges instead.
Additionally, if the prosecution is unjustifiably causing delays, your defense attorney can help you question whether you are being denied your right to a speedy trial.
Remember, your DWI attorney deals with cases like yours every day. They can give you a more accurate estimation of how long each phase of your case will likely take based on similar ongoing cases. For example, they’re more likely to know how long it usually takes for blood test results to come back and how long it typically takes to get video footage of the arrest.
FAQs About DWI (DUI) Case Delays
Why Is My DWI (DUI) Case Taking So Long to Be Processed?
DWI cases can be held up at several stages. During the discovery phase, the prosecution and the defense could be waiting on crucial evidence to be returned as they prepare their prospective cases. A lack of resources and staff or a backlog in the legal system can also contribute to delays.
What Are the Typical Timelines for Handling DWI Cases?
There’s no definitive answer, as the timeline for DWI cases can vary depending on several factors. However, cases that involve a plea bargain may be resolved in a year or less, while cases that require a jury trial can take over a year.
Can I Expedite the Process of My Case?
There are several things you can do to make sure your case is being handled as efficiently as possible:
- Hire an experienced DWI attorney: Having an experienced DWI attorney on your side will help move the wheels of justice more smoothly.
- Remain committed to resolving your case: By attending all of your appointments and always bringing the relevant paperwork, you can ensure that no time is wasted where you are involved. Keep an open line of communication with your attorney and answer their questions and requests as soon as possible.
- Consider a plea bargain: If you haven’t entered a plea yet, talk to your lawyer about whether a plea bargain would be the right course of action for you. In some cases, it won’t be in your best interest. However, if it is, it can speed up your case toward a resolution.
- Cooperate: For your case to be dealt with quickly, you’ll need to cooperate with your attorney and the court. If you’ve been ordered to attend classes or seek counseling, do this as soon as possible to demonstrate that you’re committed to cooperating and resolving the case as quickly as possible.
What Factors Influence the Timelines of Case Processing?
Several factors influence the duration of a DWI case, including:
- The complexity of the DWI case (intoxication assault and intoxication manslaughter can take a significantly longer time to resolve than a simple 1st DWI with no aggravating factors).
- The gathering of evidence. Your trial can be rescheduled if either party is waiting on crucial evidence. For example, it can take several months to get blood test results.
- Resources and backlogs in the judicial system, including a shortage of staff or backlog of court cases.
Is There a Right to a Speedy Trial for DWI Cases?
Under the 6th Amendment, anyone charged with an offense has the right to a speedy trial. However, in DWI cases, this right is often waived (by the defendant) to give the defense more time to prepare their case. Even if it isn’t, delays are often justified because of the length of time that’s required for evidence and investigation to be completed. Therefore, it’s unlikely that a judge would consider a delay to a DWI case a violation of the defendant’s right to a speedy trial.
However, there may be a violation if several years have passed, and the delay is due to negligence or the prosecution’s deliberate stalling. A DWI attorney could advise you if this is the case.
Ben has vast experience in defending criminal cases ranging from DWIs to assault, drug possession, and many more. He has countless criminal charges dismissed and pled down. Among many other awards, one of the Top 10 Criminal Defense Attorneys in Texas and winner of Top 40 under 40.