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Considered: Alternative Sentencing for First-Time DWIs

By Laura Garcia
Deputy Legislative Director

On March 22, the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence considered HB 189 by Rep. Todd Smith (R-Euless), a bill which would authorize the additional sentencing option of deferred adjudication for certain first-time DWI offenders and potentially help ease crowded court dockets and county jails.

Under the provisions of the legislation as filed, a defendant receiving a sentence of deferred adjudication for certain DWI offenses would be required to have an ignition interlock device installed in his or her vehicle as part of the terms of the sentence. Additionally, a deferred adjudication sentence could still be used for the purpose of enhancing future penalties for subsequent intoxication offenses.

At the hearing, committee members heard from numerous witnesses, including prosecutors, judges, and a representative of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who testified in support of the legislation. In testimony, Richard Alpert, an assistant district attorney with Tarrant County, discussed the need for this additional sentencing tool for prosecutors. He indicated that in Tarrant County, for example, the majority of first-time DWI offenders opt for a jail sentence over probation, and the deferred adjudication sentencing option would likely motivate more of these defendants to accept this sentence in lieu of jail time and receive treatment to help prevent subsequent offenses.

In written testimony, Judge David Hodges, TAC’s judicial projects director, said that “the passage of this bill will make it possible again for us to place a substantial majority of DWI defendants on probation, more closely monitor their drinking and driving activities for a longer period of time, and offer evidence-based educational and counseling programs intended to change future behavior.”

The legislation, however, as introduced, does have a financial hurdle. The bill’s fiscal note presently indicates a potential $7.5 million negative impact to the state for the next biennium. The impact is due to the aspects of the legislation which would allow defendants placed on deferred adjudication to bypass the Driver Responsibility Program surcharges, as well costs relating to the increased workload to the Department of Public Safety as a result of the ignition interlock device mandate proposed by the bill. A representative of the Dallas County Adult Probation Department also testified to potential increased costs for their department relating to the additional monitoring of defendants with ignition interlock devices installed in their vehicles. Smith indicated that he was working with stakeholders to address the negative fiscal impact to the state.

The bill was left pending by the committee.