I was curious about whether other Offices have experienced what my Office has regarding the number of DWI cases plead. We are going to be breaking some records in Tarrant County.
What we have found is that the defense attorney's who generally "take care of business" in a timely manner, have rushed to get pleas done before September 1, 2003. One even expressed to me that he was afraid that failure to do so might be ineffective assistance. We haven't expereienced any influx of pro se defendants wanting to plead. I don't know if its because they don't know about the surcharge, or they just don't care.
We actually set up a special docket to notify DWI and DWLS defendants of the impending surcharge and give them the opportunity to plea. Very few people came, and fewer pled. Generally, the attorneys who had indicated they wanted to plea the case from the beginning are the only ones trying to beat the deadline. None of the pro se defendants have had a change of heart.
About 3 weeks ago I sent a letter to all of the defense attorneys with DWI or DWLI cases on my court's docket reminding them of the surcharges. Probably 3/4 or more of them have already pleaded. On top of that many more which had been filed, but not on docket, came in and entered pleas. More to do this afternoon and tomorrow. We have even had at least two attorneys who had clients arrested this wek for DWI come in and ask us to rush the filing of the case so they could plea tomorrow.
many defense attorneys have told me that they are likely to be taking most DWI's to trial after September 1.
In Wise County (population 50,000), the county court at law expects to have had 70 or more DWI pleas in the last two weeks. It has been a mad house. That's a serious chunk out of the docket.
I (defense lawyer) sent out a "warning letter" to all of my clients at the end of July. I would say 75%-80% of them were knocking down my door in order to plea.
In my opinion they will lack merit. But, my guess is that due to the Department's determination to "utilize only those convictions that result[ed] (sic) from an offense committed on or after September 1, 2003" in assessing the surcharge, during the month of September we will see a record number of motions filed under Tex.R.App.P. 21.4. Are we having fun yet?
It seems that my week, a non-stop smorgasborg of rushed dwi pleas, has not been unique. The dawning of a new era does, however, bring to mind a few questions:
1. Will I actually have to try a DWLS (God help me!)?
2. Does this mean more DWI trials on marginal cases ? I think so.
3. Will the surcharge result in an unprecedented amount of begging and cajoling from defense counsel to reduce dwi's? DEFINITELY.
In a typical month 500-600 DWI cases are plead. The month of August, due to the upcoming surcharge, 1700 DWI were plead!
Well, perhaps that was all for naught -- the Legislature apparently wants to change the effective date of the DWI surcharges back to its original intent, i.e., offenses occurring after 9/1/03 ...
How about if the Leg cuts the "surcharge" in half for those defendants who plead guilty?
Is there any chance to get the Senate to look at changing the >0.16 surcharge to a refusal surcharge?
Well, they're discussing the bill in committee as I type this, so unless you can turn back time, it doesn't look likely. But John, I sure would enjoy listening to you explain to the vice chairman of the Senate Infrastructure Development & Security Cmte. the importance of breath tests in DWI cases (I'll let you figure out to whom I'm referring ...).
Things are flying through both houses with little or no discussion right now, so I don't think it's worth it to jump into the crossfire right now.
Hmmmm, I see your point about the Vice Chairman. Oh well.
Being a rural juisdiction, we dispose of cases very quickly( within 2 weeks of arrest in many instances),however, I have noticed a big change in the last three weeks as it relates to DWI's. Those cases have quit moving and more attorneys have been hired or requested by appointment to the tune of about 4 times the average month. Of course, that means the cases will sit on the docket longer and result in fewer pleas. I knew the increase was coming, I just didn't think it would occur before the expiration of the first month. GOOD LUCK TO ALL!
MIKE HARTMAN, Scurry County Atty.
[This message was edited by mhartman on 09-17-03 at .]
I doubt the legislature will be allowed to reduce the surcharge for folks who plead guilty. I think that would definitely be viewed as punishing the convicted defendants for exercising their right to a jury trial. If I were a defense attorney, I would scream bloody murder, if my client got whacked with a bigger surcharge simply because he/she chose to try the case.
If the legislature has any brains (I know there isn't one among them!), they'll drop this ridiculous scheme due to its cumbersomeness and the obvious backlog it'll create state-wide. What if the surcharge stays put? Then we'll have more trials and each county will ask for more courts, more judges & more prosecutors to handle the increased trial workload. How will they ever afford that?
66% of DPS surcharges for scofflaws go unpaid
Web Posted: 09/02/2007 11:55 PM CDT
AUSTIN � A Texas law intended to slap bad drivers with hefty annual surcharges is being ignored by seven out of 10 of the slapped motorists.
So the law keeps slapping them, harder.
Passed in 2003, the Texas Driver Responsibility Law adds fees ranging from $100 to more than $2,000 for drivers who have repeat traffic violations, drive drunk or are caught without insurance or a license.
Drivers who don't pay the surcharges lose their licenses until they settle up � and can be arrested if caught driving without it.
But that doesn't seem to be slowing down hundreds of thousands of Texas motorists. Nearly 775,000 drivers are not paying the surcharges, according to the Department of Public Safety.
Presumably the same number of persons are now driving a vehicle not covered by insurance?
Hospital funding not flowing
Web Posted: 09/22/2007 03:40 AM CDT
Express-News Medical Writer
Millions in fines from bad drivers meant to help stabilize the state's financially strapped trauma hospitals are caught in limbo in an account controlled by the Texas Legislature.
Under a 2003 law known as the Texas Driver Responsibility Program, the funds were designed to reimburse hospitals for the uncompensated care they incur treating uninsured or underinsured injured patients.
While Texas has collected approximately $228 million in fees for trauma since 2005, less than two-thirds of that amount � or about $148 million � has been paid to hospitals in the same time period, according to records from the Texas Hospital Association and Department of State Health Services.
The funds first started flowing in 2004, with $18.2 million going to hospitals, but fee collection totals from the Department of Public Safety for that year were not immediately available, a DPS spokeswoman said.
Those familiar with the state's funding process speculated lawmakers are using the money in the trauma account to help certify the overall budget and show additional cash flow. A report by the Texas Hospital Association (THA) noted that "questions still remain on the mechanics" of how and when the money might finally be paid.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, author of the driver responsibility bill, did not return a call for comment. Rep. Robert Puente, D-San Antonio, said Friday that lawmakers need to "do the right thing" and release the dollars to hospitals, most of which are grappling with severely overcrowded emergency rooms.
"It's one of the many things, unfortunately, we do to show we have a balanced budget," he said. "But we need to disburse these funds so they flow where they were meant to go."
The law was originally hailed by Gov. Rick Perry as a way to raise $1 billion for the state's trauma hospitals by 2008. So far, it's only netted the facilities a four-year total of about $167 million. The state trauma network incurs about $200 million annually in uncompensated costs from uninsured and underinsured persons in need of emergency treatment.
The law adds fees ranging from $100 to more than $2,000 for drivers who commit repeat offenses, such as driving while intoxicated or driving without a license. The revenues are supposed to be divided between paying for uncompensated trauma care and state highways.
Recent reports have focused on the scores of violators who aren't paying up, which has hurt DPS' collection rates. Nearly 775,000 drivers have not paid the violation surcharges, according to DPS.
But further exacerbating the problem is this little-publicized disconnect between the amount of collections for trauma already sitting in the state account versus how much funding hospitals have actually received from the state.
"This has been a very important bill for trauma and it does provide a regional funding mechanism for a regional problem," said Dr. Ronald Stewart, trauma director at San Antonio's University Hospital. "But my concern is the Legislature has chosen not to disburse all the money. They should disburse the dollars for what they were intended for."
Since the program began, University, the only top-tier, Level 1 civilian trauma center for 22 South Texas counties, has seen more than $10 million in reimbursements under the program. The military's two local Level I facilities, Brooke Army Medical and Wilford Hall Medical centers � which also help care for this region's injured civilians � have been paid $7.6 million and $4 million respectively.
Other lower-level local trauma hospitals, such as the Methodist, Baptist and Christus systems, also received funding from the program, although the amounts were less than the Level 1 facilities.
Texas hospitals are appreciative of the much-needed funding infusions, stressed Dinah Welsh, THA's senior director of advocacy and public policy. Before 2003, the Texas trauma system received state funding only from unclaimed lottery winnings � an insufficient and unpredictable revenue stream.
But trauma hospitals are struggling to make ends meet while caring for a growing population � 25 percent of which is uninsured, she said.
"It's hard to step back and not continue to fight for full funding," Welsh said. "For 2006-2007, we are basically getting 25 cents on the dollar for what's in the fund for hospitals."
A measure quietly attached to the 2006-2007 budget put a partial stopper in the funding flow. Rider 84 of Senate Bill 1 put limitations on funds to trauma hospitals in 2006 and contributed to the lag in appropriations. While about $80.6 million was collected for trauma that year, only $56.6 million was distributed, according to a THA report.
"The Texas Hospital Association understands that the additional $24 million in dedicated funds collected but not distributed for the fiscal year were to remain in the account and would be appropriated at a future date," the report said.
STUDY QUESTIONS VA. DRIVER FEES, RAISING THE POSSIBILITY OF REPEAL
Virginia may have to issue more than 300,000 license suspensions to drivers over the next two years for failure to pay the state's abusive-driving fees, according to a government report that may hasten calls for the General Assembly and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) to eliminate them.
In the first broad review of the fees since they took effect July 1, state auditors found that they have not affected traffic safety and might not raise as much money as expected. The report describes confusion over which offenses can trigger the fees and indicates that some police officers are choosing not to write tickets for violations that carry the fees.
Auditors working for the General Assembly said they are uncertain about the long-term impacts the fees will have on safety and state revenue, but their report raises questions about whether legislators and Kaine made the right decision in establishing them.
Although he aggressively defended the fees over the summer, Kaine said he is open to getting rid of them. "We heard overwhelmingly people don't like it," Kaine said. "It should at least be changed, maybe eliminated."
Make them take a driving course. Not Defensive driving, but the whole sixteen year old, ooh I want a driver's license, look I've got keys to a car, aren't I popular, driving course.
Complete the humiliation with a written and practical exam. Make anyone accumulating a designated number of points re-take Drivers Education.
How funny would it be to have your obstinate and obdurate defendant sitting in one of those 'student driver' vehicles where the instructor has a brake pedal?
Can I get an amen?
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