By Roland Rodriguez
CORPUS CHRISTI – September 1 is when House Bill 3016, also known as the “second chances” law, goes into effect.
The bill will allow low-level DWI offenders to seal their criminal backgrounds, making it easier for people to apply for jobs.
“These guidelines are very very strict. It does not apply to everybody. If you have a violent history or you got other misdemeanors or felonies, this program may not be for you. Also having breathalyzer in your car is very expensive and very strict, you can’t have someone blow in it for you. But this new law also balances out the safety of the public and protecting those of the menace of drunk driving,” said Attorney Joe Flores.
Attorney Joe Flores, who deals with all types of cases along with drunken driving cases, said he believes the law will be a benefit to the public.
“It sends a strong message that people deserve a second chance. What it helps is save the tax payers a lot of dollars, as well in prosecution. Going to trial on things when things can be resolved more equitably, but at the same time, protect the public,” said Flores.
While these changes will be beneficial elsewhere in the state of Texas, it won’t affect Nueces County because it already has programs in place to help first-time offenders.
“Mark Gonzales and Matt Manning there at the District Attorney’s office here in Nueces County and surrounding counties, do have a pre-trial diversion program. It goes through the probation department. It is a year, and you have to pay at least $500 fine, at a certain level you have to install that breathalyzer already, so these things are already in place. What this law does, basically says you may be able to get a second chance here, and you don’t have to report it to your employer and have it sealed. And some district attorneys may plead it down to an obstruction of highway,” said Flores.
The Second Chances Law is retroactive and will apply for a DWI offense committed before, on, or after Sept. 1st.
“This is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. This is not something that gives you the opportunity to get away with it. You are going to have hefty consequences, and there is no guarantee that you won’t have a at least a pre-trial diversion DWI. There are a lot of hurdles you go through, and it is just not worth it,” said Flores.
The idea behind this law is to help people recover from mistakes that could make it difficult to get a job or housing and become productive members of society.
The new law does not afford second chances to everyone. A DWI offender would not qualify for the nondisclosure option if they had a prior DWI conviction, had a blood alcohol level above 0.14, have not fully paid court fines, or if they struck a pedestrian or a vehicle with someone inside.
And, although a nondisclosure order would seal a criminal records from public view, law enforcement agencies and a few other entities will still be able to view the records when necessary.
The bill, which returns to the House to consider Senate changes, expands on similar legislation that became law in 2015 and applied to nonsexual class A and B misdemeanors that do not involve family violence.
For those with a DWI conviction, HB 3016 would allow a court order of nondisclosure only after six months of successful use of an ignition interlock device or five years after completing the sentence.