After a night of drinking with your friends, driving is all too risky. You can choose to have a designated driver, and if you are feeling up to it, you can cycle back home. But does operating a bicycle put you at risk of a DWI offense?
Texas does not have a law that explicitly prohibits cycling while intoxicated. However, aggressive prosecutors might still find their way around ambiguous legal wording to push for a DWI charge. Alternatively, they could press charges for public intoxication and disorderly conduct.
Whether you are arrested for a bicycle DWI or another alcohol-related offense while cycling, Fort Worth DWI Defense Lawyer could help you with your criminal defense.
Bicycle DWI Overview
Unlike driving, flying, or boating while intoxicated, Texas does not have a statute that expressly prohibits bicycling while intoxicated.
However, some prosecutors use the general DWI law to bring charges of intoxication for those arrested while cycling.
The law prosecutors refer to when raising bicycle DWI charges makes it a crime to operate a vehicle in public while intoxicated.
Under the Texas penal Code, being intoxicated means you:
- Lack the normal use of your mental or physical faculties due to the use of alcohol, controlled substances, drugs, or a combination of these substances, or
- You have a BAC of 0.08% or higher.
To understand Texas DWI laws' coverage, let us look at the definition of a motor vehicle. Section 32.34(a) defines a motor vehicle as a device in, on, or by which a person is or might be transported on a highway, except devices exclusively used on stationary rails or tracks.
Trains are exempted from the definition of motor vehicles. And you would be correct in assuming that bicycles are not motor vehicles. However, the law is vague about whether the statute was intended to cover bicycles.
Such vagueness leaves enough room for prosecutors to charge you with a DWI for riding a bicycle while intoxicated.
Unless you are proactive and start fighting these charges as soon as possible, you might end up with a conviction for a DWI or another alcohol-related offense. Work with your DWI attorney to start the defense process.
Your attorney will work with the prosecution, which could lead to the charge's reduction or dismissal.
If the prosecution does manage to secure a DWI conviction, you will face different penalties depending on your DWI criminal history. For a first offense, the penalties will include:
- A fine of up to $2,000
- Up to 180 days in jail
- Driver’s license suspension for up to a year
For a second offense, the penalties will include:
- Up to $4,000 in fines
- Between one month and one year in jail
- Driver’s license suspension for up to two years
For a third offense:
- Up to $10,000 in fines
- Two to ten years in prison
- Suspension of your driver’s license for up to two years
The ambiguity in the wording of Penal code 49.04 allows defense attorneys alike to challenge bicycles' inclusivity as motor vehicles. A solid negotiation strategy will convince the prosecution that DWI charges do not apply to bicycle riders.
If the prosecution insists on pursuing bicycle DWI charges, your attorney could present some of the defenses to fight the charges:
- You had a BAC lower than the legal limit.
- Errors in the breath testing equipment
- Unlawful stop or arrest
In most cases, however, it is unlikely that you will face charges for riding a bicycle while intoxicated, especially if you were cycling on the bicycle lane. The prosecution will most likely go for public intoxication charges, which do not require you to operate a vehicle.
Even if you avoid DWI charges for cycling while intoxicated, the prosecution could still charge you for public intoxication. Public intoxication does not prohibit drinking or being drunk in public. It only becomes an offense when your intoxication endangers you or another person.
Texas Penal Code 49.02 defines public intoxication as appearing in public places while intoxicated to a level that endangers the drinker and other people.
You are intoxicated if your BAC is above the legal limit (0.08%). In addition, you must present a danger to yourself and other people. For example, an officer has probable cause to arrest you if you have a BAC of .08% and are acting violently in the middle of the street.
Officers also conduct pat-down searches searching for other evidence, which they could use against you in court. For example, if you display signs of intoxication such as an alcohol odor and slurred speech and are endangering yourself or another person, an officer could conduct a pat-down search.
If they find other contraband such as dangerous drugs on you, they can bring charges of intoxication and possession of dangerous drugs.
The law defines a public place as any place where the public has access. These areas include schools, office buildings, hospitals, apartments, public roadways, and premises permitted or licensed to sell alcohol.
The arresting officer determines whether you are a danger to yourself or another person, especially where this is not obvious. For example, if you act violently after drinking, you are putting yourself and others at risk.
However, when you are just minding your business but are clearly intoxicated, the arresting officer could argue that you pose a threat to yourself, and if not arrested, you could be the victim of a crime.
Public intoxication is a Class C misdemeanor in Texas, with a possible penalty of up to $500. You could be released into a treatment facility instead of serving time in jail.
Minors (under 21 years) could also be charged with public intoxication with penalties similar to underage DUI in Texas. Some of these penalties include:
- Up to $500 in fines
- 8 to 12 hours of community service
- Suspension of your driver’s license for 30 days
- Attendance at an alcohol awareness class
You can fight charges of public intoxication through defenses such as the following:
- You were not intoxicated — If you had a BAC lower than 0.08%, you could successfully challenge the charges. The prosecution could prove that you were intoxicated based on your behavior. For example, you were acting violently. However, if your behavior does not indicate intoxication and you had a BAC below the legal limit, your charges could be dismissed.
- You did not pose a threat to yourself or another person. The prosecution must prove that you posed a threat to yourself or another person for you to be convicted for public intoxication. However, if you posed no threat, then you cannot be charged for the offense.
DUI vs. DWI
In Texas, you could be charged with either a DWI or a DUI. Charges for driving under the influence (DUI) arise from Texas' zero-tolerance policy for underage driving.
An underage driver is anyone under the age of 21. Texas law makes it illegal for minor drivers to operate a motor vehicle with a detectable alcohol amount. You can be convicted for the offense even if your BAC is lower than the legal limit (0.08%).
If you are convicted for a DUI in Texas, you will face penalties such as:
- Up to $500 in fines
- Between 20 and 40 hours of community service
- Mandatory attendance at an alcohol awareness class
- Suspension of your driver’s license for up to 60 days
The DUI penalties will be steeper if you have prior convictions for a DUI. For example, community service hours increase to between 40 and 60 hours.
A third subsequent conviction will result in penalties, including:
- Between $500 to $2,000 in fines
- A jail term of up to 180 days
The prosecution could also charge a minor with DWI if the BAC limit exceeded the legal limit. DWI charges punish offenders for driving when their mental and physical capabilities are impaired due to alcohol or drugs.
Collateral and Civil Consequences of Bicycle DWI
Apart from the penalties you receive for a DWI, DUI, or public intoxication conviction, you will suffer additional consequences, which typically last longer after the criminal penalties end.
Whether you are convicted for public intoxication or bicycle DWI, you will have a criminal record, which will affect your employment, housing, and educational pursuits.
Employers are more likely to avoid hiring a person with a criminal record. If you are a commercial driver, accumulating DWI charges on your record could lead to permanent loss of your commercial driver’s license.
In addition to the lasting consequences of a criminal record, you might face civil liabilities for any damages you caused while biking while intoxicated.
The law requires all road users to exercise reasonable care to keep themselves and others safe. While riding a bicycle while intoxicated might not cause damage as a vehicle would, drunk bicyclists also risk causing injuries or property damage.
Alcohol reduces your response time to road hazards and reduces your judgment leading to poor decisions and violating traffic rules. Alcohol consumption could also lead to negligent behavior like riding without a helmet, reflective clothing, or lights on your bike.
People who suffer injuries or property damage due to your negligent behavior can sue you to recover damages in civil court.
In addition, you are less likely to recover compensation for injuries that occurred while you were cycling under the influence.
Bicycling while intoxicated is as dangerous as driving while intoxicated since, in both cases, the driver and rider are impaired, which means they are more likely to engage in negligent behavior. Negligent behavior places drivers and cyclists, and other road users at risk of harm.
Clearing Your Criminal Record
An arrest, charge, or conviction on your record remains for a long time and is in the public realm. This means that anyone running a background check on you can learn of any arrests or convictions you have had.
Having information about arrests and convictions in the public realm can make it difficult and embarrassing when trying to secure employment. People judge you without giving you a chance to prove yourself. You will experience similar difficulties when applying for credit or finding housing.
Fortunately, you can prevent the public from accessing your arrest, charge, or conviction history if you qualify for an expungement. An expungement or record sealing prevents the public from discovering your criminal records. These records are, however, accessible to law enforcement.
Sealing or expunging records allow you to lead a normal life against and put the arrest or conviction behind you.
You are eligible for a DWI expungement in Texas if:
- You were a minor (under 21) when you were arrested or convicted for the DWI offense — This expungement is available for minors since the Texas justice system seeks to rehabilitate minors more than to punish them, particularly if they do not have another conviction for an alcohol-related offense.
- The prosecution did not file DWI charges — Records of your arrest remain on your record and can be viewed by the public when they run a background check. Expunging a DWI arrest prevents potential employers and the public from viewing your arrests for expunged crimes.
- The court dismissed your case — A record of your arrest and charge will remain on your record even if you were not convicted for the offense. You must therefore file a petition to request the court to expunge your records.
- You were acquitted for the offense.
- You appealed a DWI conviction and won.
When your records are expunged, you can legally say that you were never arrested, charged, acquitted, or convicted for the expunged crime.
Texas is strict on DWI violations, which reflects the difficulty in expunging DWI records until recently.
Changes brought through HB 3016 recognize the heavy and unnecessary burden first-time DWI offenders carry due to a DWI criminal record. The bill allows the sealing of some first DWI convictions. You have to meet the following conditions to be eligible for an expungement under HB 3016:
- The offense is your first and only DWI offense.
- You had a BAC of not higher than .15%
- You were convicted of DWI, not boating or flying while intoxicated.
- You do not have a conviction for another crime.
- You have not received a deferred judgment for another offense.
- You completed all the terms of your sentence or probation and have paid all your fines and restitution.
- The DWI for which you were convicted did not cause an accident or injury to someone else.
- You have met the mandatory waiting period for an expungement (the waiting period varies between two to five years depending on the IID requirements in your case)
You could also petition for non-disclosure, which, if granted, will seal your criminal record. A non-disclosure prevents law enforcement agencies, prosecutors' offices, courts, or court clerks from disclosing your criminal record to another party.
As opposed to an expungement, a non-disclosure does not destroy or delete your criminal record. In both expungement and non-disclosures, you do not have to disclose your criminal history on the job, school, or credit applications.
A non-disclosure also applies for any qualifying offense, but you have to petition for the sealing of each record. Some of the factors that could disqualify you from a non-disclosure (even for unrelated offenses) include:
- Offenses that require you to register as a sex offender
- Capital murder
- Aggravated kidnapping
- Trafficking of persons (and continuous trafficking of persons)
- Injury to an older person, a child, or a disabled person
- Child abandonment or endangerment
- Violation of court orders for offenses related to sexual assault and abuse, family violence, stalking, or trafficking
- Crimes related to family violence
- You are convicted, on probation, or deferred adjudication during the same time while completing probation for another offense or during the waiting period.
Expungement and non-disclosures follow different laws and procedures not covered here. The circumstances, requirements, and eligibility for both will vary based on your case and your criminal history after conviction.
You must also meet the set deadlines and fill the relevant forms accurately for better chances at having your petition accepted.
Errors in your paperwork will lead to the denial of your application and delays in cleaning your record.
The court will set a hearing date upon approval of your request for non-disclosure and send a notice of hearing to the relevant parties.
During the hearing, you will argue why the non-disclosure is in the best interests of justice. Make sure to work with an attorney who will help you create a compelling argument to support your petition.
An attorney will help you prepare and present the relevant documents and evidence needed in your case. Some of the documents you need include:
- A copy of the judgment for the offense for which you are seeking a non-disclosure
- A signed order indicating that you completed probation or deferred adjudication
- A signed order showing that you have paid restitution, costs, and fines associated with your case
Why You Need an Attorney
While it is highly unlikely that the prosecution will charge you for a DWI while on a bicycle, they will likely file charges for public intoxication. Either way, a conviction will remain on your record for the public to see.
Often, the arresting officer will shade a gloomy outlook on your case. They will probably advise you to plead guilty to public intoxication instead of bicycle DWI. While it might be lesser than a DWI, it still stays on your record, meaning the collateral consequences such as problems with employment and housing will continue.
It is always advisable to contact an attorney soon after your arrest. Criminal lawyers have a deeper understanding of police procedures and present the objectivity that you might not have when facing a threat to your freedom.
An attorney will advise you on your rights, including how to protect yourself from self-incrimination.
Other benefits of working with an attorney on your bicycle DWI or public intoxication case include:
- An attorney can intervene to have the prosecution drop charges against you. Attorneys understand the justice system, including the steps that the prosecution has to take before filing a charge. Your attorney could negotiate with the prosecution, pointing out the weaknesses in the case, which could lead to your case’s dismissal.
- If the prosecution files a case against you (usually for public intoxication), your attorney will be there to prepare a solid defense and fight these charges on your behalf. Your attorney will advise you on the best actions to take during the arraignment, the pretrial stage, and the plea bargaining process. Your attorney knows the best time to present evidence and file relevant motions, which weakens the prosecution’s case.
- Your attorney has access to critical resources such as legal researchers and expert witnesses who can discredit your test results or question the procedures used in determining your intoxication. Your attorney also knows when bringing an expert witness will work for your case.
- Trail experience: if you choose a good attorney with extensive trial experience, you are taking advantage of the skills and experience gained over the years to help you present a solid defense for your case.
It is unwise to approach a criminal case on your own, even if you feel that the charges against you are not as serious. You might save the money you could have spent on an attorney, but the losses you incur in terms of your freedom, court fines, and penalties outweigh the cost of hiring an attorney.
Hire an attorney to help you navigate the court system, develop, and present a strong defense on your behalf.
Find a Fort Worth Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Can the prosecution charge you for bicycling while intoxicated?
It is unlikely they will, but there is a slim chance that they might. Alternatively, they could charge you with public intoxication, which comes with significant penalties.
When you face an alcohol-related charge, you want to start working with a DWI defense attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney will work with you to develop a solid defense strategy to fight the charges you face.
Fort Worth DWI Defense Lawyer works with people charged with alcohol-related offenses in Fort Worth. Our team of attorneys, paralegals, and legal researchers work on your case to identify all the possible angles from which we could approach the case.
Our goal as we handle our cases is to deliver the best possible outcome based on the case. Contact us for a free consultation at 817-470-2128.