LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Until 1984, deferred adjudication was available for intoxication offenses, including Driving While Intoxicated and Boating While Intoxicated charges.
The law changed, disallowing it, but causing some unintended consequences. Prosecutors lost their ability to be flexible when dealing with these cases, which caused a massive backlog of cases.
After five tries, the Texas state legislature passed a bill this session that changes how DWIs are handled for first-time offenders, once again allowing the opportunity to have the charge deferred.
“What the deferred adjudication is, is a person comes in and pleads guilty to a judge and the judge says ok, based on your plea, I find that there is enough evidence to find you guilty of this offense,” Brummett said.
However, the judge can defer the finding of guilt and place you on community supervision, or probation.
But, unlike a standard deferred adjudication where, if you complete it, it is not a conviction and is off your record, Assistant District Attorney Tom Brummett said if you get another DWI, it will be enhanced.
“In other words, that deferred, we’re able to resurrect it and use it as a prior conviction, when you normally wouldn’t be able to do that for a deferred,” Brummett said.
Brummett said 76 percent of cases tried in Lubbock County criminal courts are DWIs.
And, although he said college students do not necessarily make up a larger percentage of these cases, they are a good example of people that this bill could help.
“You’ve got a young offender, 19, 21 years old, has no experience with alcohol, doesn’t know their tolerances, goes out there and gets a DWI,” Brummett said. “We’re giving them a chance that if they are good, they never find themselves in the situation again and they don’t end up having that conviction on their record.”
Brummett said some cases may be worked out with deferred adjudication, but judges still have the right to convict cases they believe deserve it.
“It is only available for offenses committed after September 1st, so anything that’s pending that’s in there right now, it’s under the old law,” Brummett said.
Brummett said this bill just gives prosecutors one more tool in their toolbox to help work out cases in a just manner.
“There’s only so many trial settings, there’s only so much that can be done, and we’ll be able to focus on the cases that really need it, the people that really represent danger, the people that need to be off the streets,” Brummett said.
People charged with a DWI face up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.