Every state has a statute of limitations, which sets out the maximum amount of time the prosecutor has to bring criminal charges against you. These laws serve several valid purposes, but the primary one is to protect defendants. The more time that passes, the harder it is to find evidence to use in your defense. The statute of limitations forces prosecutors to bring charges in a timely manner—or lose the ability to prosecute a defendant for the crime.
In Texas, the specific limitations period will depend on whether you are facing misdemeanor or felony DWI charges.
The statute of limitations for misdemeanor DWI is two years, which you can find at the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 12.02. Generally, a first or even second DWI in Texas is a misdemeanor offense.
Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 12.01(8) states that the statute of limitations for felony DWI is three years. Felony DWI can include a third or fourth DWI offense or being caught with a child under age 15 in the vehicle with you. Intoxication manslaughter is another felony DWI offense.
When Does the Clock Start Running?
Typically, it begins to run the day you committed the offense. For example, if you were arrested for a fourth DWI on June 1, then the state has three years from this day to bring charges against you.
Why Would Prosecutors Delay Filing Charges?
There are many reasons, including:
- The Harris County prosecutor’s office is overwhelmed and understaffed. They simply don’t have the resources to get to all DWI cases in a timely manner, so some are pushed off too long.
- The prosecutor’s office is prioritizing other crimes, like sexual assault. Consequently, they push Houston DWI cases to the back burner.
- Cases fall through the cracks due to turnover in the prosecutor’s office. The new prosecutor might forget to bring charges even though the deadline is fast approaching.
- There is a backlog of Houston & Harris County DWI cases due to a mass arrest, such as on a holiday.
- Data entry errors regarding blood samples aren’t caught until years have passed.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter why the prosecutor waited too long to file charges. The law doesn’t allow them to ask a judge to make an exception because they were overworked. And, really, two or three years is certainly enough time.
What Should You Do if the Statute of Limitations Has Run?
If the prosecutor misses the deadline, then you are in the clear. True, the prosecutor might still file charges, but you can ask the judge to dismiss them, which the judge should do.
Sometimes, prosecutors know the deadline has passed, so they make a generous plea deal. You absolutely should not agree to any plea in this situation. Instead, hire a lawyer if you don’t yet have one. No one should plead guilty to a crime that the prosecutor can’t get a conviction for.
Speak with a DWI Lawyer Today
At The Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates, we always double check to see that charges are brought within the statute of limitations period. If not, we can get them dismissed by pointing out the violation to the judge. Call us today if you would like to talk with a lawyer in our office.