Driving while intoxicated is a crime in Texas severely punished when proven. Before you get arrested for the crime, a police officer will have a probable cause to stop you, or you may have caused an accident. Depending on the circumstances, an arresting officer may ask you to submit to field sobriety tests to determine impairment. In most cases, when one fails in any of these tests, an arrest is made, and further tests are carried out at the police station that includes a breath chemical test. This test is carried out to determine the level of alcohol in your blood that would support your impairment.
Texas is an implied consent state, meaning when one is arrested for intoxicated driving, they must submit to a chemical breath test. Sometimes, you may decline to agree to this test. Unfortunately, when one does, their penalties are enhanced as a result. Having an attorney represent you when charged with a DWI offense is crucial to avoid these consequences. At Fort Worth DWI Defense Lawyer, we have dedicated attorneys ready to take up your case and vigorously defend you.
Overview of DWI Laws in Texas
The state of Texas has stringent laws against intoxicated driving. When found operating a vehicle, motorcycle, or even a boat intoxicated by drugs or alcohol, the state will institute DWI charges against you. Intoxicated driving is even more seriously punished against underage individuals below 21 following the zero-tolerance law on underage drunk driving. Commercial drivers also receive more severe penalties when arrested and convicted of intoxicated driving.
Driving while intoxicated is a priorable offense in Texas. This means the first three offenses of drunk driving are misdemeanors, with each subsequent offense receiving harsher penalties than the one before. The crimes, however, must be committed in ten years from the first offense. A fourth offense over the same period is charged and convicted as a felony. The penalties for intoxicated driving include probation, fines, and jail sentences, among others.
When convicted on a DWI offense for the first time, your penalties may include:
- A jail sentence for a minimum of three days and a maximum of a year. This is especially when your BAC results were at 0.15%
- A fine not exceeding $2,000 when your BAC results were below 0.15%. If your BAC registered over 0.15%, the fine charged may go higher but not over $4,000
- You will face a suspension on your driver’s license for not less than three months and not for over a year.
When arrested for the second time on intoxicated driving, some of the penalties you are likely to meet are:
- Incarceration for not less than thirty days and not more than a year. This was also when your BAC was at 0.15% or higher
- Additionally, you will pay a fine not exceeding $4,000
- Your driver’s license gets suspended for a minimum of six months and a maximum of two years
A third arrest and conviction over ten years will face even more stringent penalties. These will include:
- Imprisonment for at least two years and not more than ten years.
- Additionally, you will be asked to pay a fine to a maximum of $10,000.
- You will face a suspension of your license for at least three months but not over two years.
Fortunately, a defendant can apply when eligible for a license to keep driving to work or school during part of their license suspension. This type of license is known as the occupational driver’s license.
Why a Breath Test is Important in DWI Cases
From the penalties discussed above, it is evident that BAC results from a breathalyzer are crucial in helping determine your DWI case. Breath tests are more reliable than field sobriety tests as indicators of impairment.
When an officer stops you for suspected drunk driving in Texas, you will be asked to perform field sobriety tests. These tests are highly unreliable but give the arresting officer an indication if one is impaired or not. It is important to note that even when you pass the test, you may still get arrested and further tests or investigations carried out. Additionally, when you are sober, you can also fail the field sobriety test. This makes taking a breath chemical test more crucial because it measures the alcohol content in your blood. When you are sober but fail in the FSTs, a breath test becomes necessary to avoid wrongful charges and a conviction as well.
Equally of importance, the law does not penalize you when you decline to take field sobriety tests. Because of their unreliability, officers will always carry out a chemical test to confirm intoxication as the reason for your impairment. However, failing to give a breath sample when arrested for a DWI is an offense that aggravates your penalties.
The state has guidelines that indicate when one has consumed alcohol beyond the legal limit. Typically, a breath chemical test is carried out 45 minutes from when you were arrested for drunk driving or more. For the prosecution to get a conviction against you, they must prove you were intoxicated as you drove. This is one of the key reasons why the breath test is essential for the prosecutor and yourself as well.
The state of Texas limits the BAC levels as:
- When one is 21 years or older and driving a regular vehicle, your BAC level should be below 0.08%. When the breath sample is taken, and the results register a BAC of 0.08% or higher, you are automatically per se intoxicated according to the law
- Commercial vehicle drivers must not operate their vehicles when their BAC is at 0.04% or higher. When a breath sample is checked for alcohol content, a BAC result of 0.04% or higher will also mean the commercial driver is per se intoxicated
- For persons below 20 years, the alcohol in their body must not be detectable according to the zero tolerance on underage drinking
Most motorists assume that once they submit to a breath test and their BAC results when over the legal limit will automatically mean they are guilty. This makes them decline to agree to a breath test, which will enhance their penalties if convicted. The good news is that with an experienced DUI attorney, the BAC results can be challenged and, in some cases, thrown out as evidence against you.
Consequences of Refusing to Take a Breath Test
When a state adheres to the implied consent law, it means that it is an offense not to submit to a chemical test. Texas is an implied consent state, meaning when you hold a Texas driving license when arrested for intoxicated driving, you must provide a breath or blood sample for chemical testing. There are various consequences for refusing to submit to a breath test. It is essential, however, to note that one will not be forced to agree, however, failure will result in various consequences. Some of the consequences of your decision are:
Automatic Suspension of your Driver’s License
When one refuses to submit to a breathalyzer test to check their intoxication level, it is taken as an admission of guilt. This is especially so when the state adheres to the implied consent test. There are two types of breathalyzer tests to check on your intoxication level.
The first one is the preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test, carried out when stopped by an officer. This type of analysis is categorized as a field sobriety test, and a refusal to it will not have any consequences to it. This, like other field sobriety tests, is not a must for you to submit to and will not enhance your penalties.
On the other hand, when one gets legally arrested for drunk driving, he or she is expected to submit to a breath chemical test. When one refuses, it is taken as an admission of guilt as earlier stated. When you are a driver to a regular car, a refusal is reported to the Texas department of motor vehicles (DMV).
Once lawfully arrested, you should give a breath sample for an evidential breath test (EBT). This is the equivalent of a chemical breathalyzer test carried out to measure the alcohol content in your breath. When you refuse to submit to the test, the arresting officer will take your driver’s license and send it to the DMV, together with a report that you refused to submit to a breath test.
Typically, when you provide a breath sample, your license is still sent to the DMV, pending a possible suspension. The DMV notifies you of the possible suspension, but you are allowed to request an administrative hearing to argue against the suspension. When you refuse to submit to a breath test, you lose your right to an administrative hearing, and an automatic suspension of your license is imposed.
Permanent Revocation of Your Driver’s License
This is applicable to commercial vehicle drivers. The penalties for commercial drivers arrested for drunk driving are more stringent. When a commercial driver refuses to submit to a breath chemical test, it is taken to be an admission of guilt. A commercial driver will not only receive a suspension on their license but a permanent revocation. This means they will not work as commercial vehicle drivers anymore and will have to find another job.
The state has a standard guideline for the penalties available to persons convicted on driving while intoxicated charges. Refusal to submit to a breath test will, however, increase your penalties from the standard ones a person would get when they agree to the test.
You do not qualify for an Occupational License
When your license is suspended, you can still enjoy driving privileges in Texas. However, one has to fulfill certain conditions before being eligible for an occupational license. These are:
- You must have submitted to a breathalyzer test to check your alcohol content
- You must have served part of your license suspension according to the law
- You must install your car with an Ignition interlock device as instructed by the court
When you fulfill all the above conditions, you qualify to apply for an occupational driving license that allows you to drive to certain places. When one refuses to submit to a breathalyzer test, you automatically get disqualified from acquiring an occupational license in Texas.
You May Sabotage Your Chance to Prove Your Innocence
As earlier stated, sober individuals can also fail in field sobriety tests due to various reasons. It is important to note that you don’t have to submit to a breath test to get charged with driving while intoxicated. When an officer stops you for suspected drunk driving, he or she will be looking at the physical symptoms of impairment. Further, you may be asked to perform field sobriety tests that are easily failed even by sober individuals.
When you display symptoms of intoxication such as watery eyes or red eyes, slurred speech, or lack of balance, among others, you may get charged with drunk driving. The law does not require a BAC result to charge you with the offense. However, just like the BAC results help the prosecutor’s case when a defendant has committed the crime, a breath test will also help you.
Sometimes you may display signs of impairment, but on taking a breathalyzer test, your results fail to show alcohol in your breath. When this happens, the results, even when you get charged with a DWI, will be used in your defense. In most cases, the arresting officer may dismiss the allegations because of a lack of supporting evidence of your intoxication. Failure to take a breath test, in this case, may deny you a chance to prove your innocence when accused of this offense.
Refusing to submit to a breath test when arrested on a DWI charge may be more harmful to you. It is always best to submit to the test or pick another chemical test instead, such as a blood chemical test. Even when the results of your breath test show you were at or beyond the legal limit for alcohol, your lawyer will have various strategies in your defense. It is easier to challenge the results from the breath test than to justify your refusal when the state adheres to the implied consent law.
Find a DWI Lawyer Near Me
Texas has in place stringent laws for any person found guilty of intoxicated driving. The strict penalties are made worse when a defendant refuses to submit to a breath test, which sometimes is taken as an admission of guilt. When arrested on DWI, contacting an experienced attorney to guide you through the process and defend you in the trial is better than refusing a breath test. At Fort Worth DWI Defense Lawyer, we passionately defend our clients against DWI allegations for a favorable outcome. Call us at 817-471-2128 for an appointment to discuss your case.