Sentencing options for Austin DWI cases

Written by swayze on November 7th, 2011

Travis County has a program referred to as the Sheriff’s Weekend Alternative Program or “SWAP.” The program allows inmates to go to jail on the weekend, do some type of work, and then go home and sleep in their own bed at night. The program is generally available for non-violent offenders found guilty of such offenses as DWI. The “SWAP” program was created in part to save the taxpayers money, as it is very expensive to house inmates. “SWAP” is an alternative to the other punishment options a person in Austin may face when charged with an offense such as DWI.

What are the options for such a person?

First, the person can do probation. The general terms of probation for a person convicted of class B misdemeanor first offense DWI in Travis County are fairly uniform. The probation will typically last around 18 months, the person will be required to perform community service, complete counseling, pay fines, pay court costs, and report to a probation officer. The community service can vary, but is typically around 80 hours. These hours can feel more punitive than many people think. After all, time is money. Clients who are paid by the hour understand this very well, but even those that are paid a salary understand they only have so much time. So the time spent on community service could have been spent on something that would earn them money or even something that you would enjoy doing. Time is the most precious commodity that a person has as a human being, you can’t ever get any more of it, and you can’t get it back once you have spent it. If you think about it, time represents all of the opportunity that you have and all of the potential actions you have to take. When you lose a segment of time, you lose all of the potential and all of those possibilities. In addition, the fines and court costs are generally going to be around $800 dollars, and counseling can vary from just a few alcohol classes to inpatient treatment. Basically, the money (which takes time to earn), and the counseling (which costs money, and time) and the community service (which takes time) equates to a period of time in a particular person’s life that they will never get back.

Given the time lost while on probation, a person facing a conviction for class B misdemeanor DWI in Austin may find that it is more beneficial to sit the sentence out in jail rather than probation. A jail sentence will vary depending on the facts of a particular person’s case. The punishment range for a class B misdemeanor DWI is between 72 hours and 180 days. The person will also have to pay court costs, and have their driver’s license suspended. The person will receive credit on their driver’s license suspension for their ALR driver’s license suspension. A typical inmate sentenced to 10 days in Jail will get 2 days credit for every one day actually served. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office gives 2 days credit to inmates for their “good behavior” instead of one. This is an incentive to the inmates to be “good inmates” and saves Travis County precious dollars because the inmate will spend less actual time in the jail. If an inmate works while he is incarcerated he will get 3 days credit for every 1 day actually spent in the Travis County Jail.

Despite the good time credit, few people relish the idea of going to jail. In some cases, the SWAP may be a good alternative. If the person is accepted into the Travis County SWAP program, then the person will be able to serve their sentence on the weekend, and go home at night. While, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office’s SWAP program benefits persons that are allowed to enter the program it also benefits Travis County in that the county spends less money housing inmates. This seems like a win/win situation. However, it is not popular with all judges and prosecutors, some of whom do not like the program. Some judges have put time requirements on those allowed in the program. What this means is that a person sentenced to jail in their court can only benefit from the SWAP program if they are sentenced to more than a certain amount of days.

This situation may lead to a longer sentence for some defendants. For instance, consider person A, who is sentenced to say 10 days in the Travis County Jail, and is not eligible for SWAP. For purposes of our hypothetical he is good in jail and works every day while incarcerated. Let’s also say that person A has credit for 2 days (1 actual day) for the day he was originally arrested for the offense. This means that person A goes into the jail Friday night, and gets out Sunday morning. On the other hand, consider person B. Person B is sentenced to 30 days in the Travis County Jail because he is going to be participating in the “SWAP” program. Person B is expected to go to jail and work every weekend for approximately 10 weekends. However, just because someone is allowed to participate in the “SWAP” program by a judge does not mean the Travis County Sheriff’s Office will accept the person. For purposes of our hypothetical lets say that the Travis County Sheriff’s Office determines person B is physically not capable of performing the work required and rejects person B from the program. This means that person B now has to serve 30 days in jail (2 days for 1). Person B goes into the Travis County Jail on Friday night, and gets out of jail 13 days later. The result? Person B has to serve a disproportionately larger amount of time than person A.

Austin DWI Lawyer

Clifford Swayze
Attorney at Law
512 E. 11th St. Ste. 202
Austin, Texas 78701
Phone: 512-335-5245

 

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