Driving while intoxcated (DWI) of alcohol or drugs in Texas can risk your life and the lives of other road users. DWI can also see you serve time in jail upon conviction. The state of Texas takes DWI offenses seriously, and the financial impact on the same is severe. This applies whether you are a first or subsequent offender.
It is recommendable to hire a professional DWI defense attorney once you are arrested for DWI. A private attorney will typically represent you in the Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDPS) proceedings and the criminal court.
Attorneys specialized in DWI laws and defense have an in-depth understanding of DWI laws and defenses that other attorneys don't have. With the Fort Worth Defense Lawyers representing you in your Texas DWI charges, you can rest assured that your legal defense bases are well covered. Please schedule an appointment with us today for a free case review.
Definition of DWI in Texas
The acronym DWI stands for Driving while intoxicated and refers to alcohol and other drugs that can impair a person. Everything to do with DWI is defined under Texas Penal Code Section 49.04. Under this law, intoxication is defined as not having the normal use of your mental or physical faculties because of introducing alcohol, control substances, a drug, a dangerous drug, or a combination of those substances into the body. People commit a DWI offense if they are intoxicated and operate a motor vehicle in a public place.
Key Terms in the Definition of DWI Under Texas Penal Code Section 49.04
To fully comprehend the elements laid out in Texas Penal Code 49.04, you must understand how specific terms are defined under this law. These terms are as follows:
Under this statute, a motor vehicle is a device in, on, or which property or person might be transported or drawn on a highway, except a device exclusively located on tracks or stationary rails.
A public place is a place to which the public or a substantial group of people has public access. This includes, but is not limited to, highways, streets, and common areas like apartment houses, office buildings, transport facilities, and shops.
Ways that Law Enforcement Prove Intoxication
When law enforcement suspects that you are DWI, they usually apply standardized field sobriety testing to prove your intoxication through the following three criteria:
- Poor mental exhibition due to the use of alcohol, a drug, or both.
- Failure to exhibit normal physical faculties due to alcohol, a drug, or a combination of both.
- Having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more.
Comparison of DWI and DUI in Texas
DUI and DWI are used in an offense where someone has been arrested for driving while drunk. DUI stands for driving under the influence and seems to have a similar meaning to DWI. This might be the case, but there is a slight difference between the two regarding Texas laws.
In Texas, both DUI and DWI refers to an individual operating a vehicle in a public place while intoxicated. DWI is usually the legal term used to define this crime, although DUI is commonly used interchangeably.
The difference between these two applies to the person who has been arrested. If a minor is found with any alcohol level in his system, that person is charged with DUI. On the other hand, DWI applies to a person aged 21 years or older and is found operating a vehicle while legally intoxicated. Under Texas DWI laws, you are legally intoxicated if you are found with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or above.
So, you might be wondering which offense is worse between the two, right? In Texas, DWI is a more severe crime. However, it is easier to be arrested for DUI since it is charged when a person has any alcohol amount in his system.
Since DWI is a more serious offense than DUI, it attracts hefty fines, jail or prison time, and other related consequences.
Penalties for DWI in Texas
The penalties that result from DWI in Texas differ according to the circumstances and nature of the arrest. You can face different penalties depending on whether your arrest is a first, second, or third DWI. Let's have a closer look at these penalties.
Penalties for a First DWI
A first DWI offense in Texas is a class B misdemeanor. Its punishment is 3 to 180 days in county jail and a maximum fine of $2000. You can pay your fine and serve jail time if you were arrested under severe circumstances.
Some conditions that increase the penalties stated above, even for a first-time offense. These includes:
DWI with a Minor
If you are charged with DWI with a child below fifteen years in your vehicle, this becomes a felony. A successful conviction leads to 180 days to 2 years in a state jail or a maximum fine of up to $10,000.
If an individual's DWI severely injures another person, this becomes a third-degree felony. This attracts a punishment of 2 to 10 years in state prison, a maximum fine of $10,000, or both.
If your DWI kills another person, this becomes a second-degree felony. This leads to a punishment of 2 to 20 years in state prison, a maximum fine of $10,000, or both.
DWI with an Open Container
A first DWI subjects the arrestee to at least three mandatory days in county jail. This timeline might go up six days if the individual had an open container in his vehicle during the traffic stop.
In this context, DWI with an open container applies when you knowingly possess an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle. The open container law includes something like a flask, a bottle, or a can found near you during a traffic stop.
Apart from the six mandatory days in jail mentioned above, you are also at risk of paying a maximum fine of $500 but with no jail time.
Probation for a First DWI in Texas
Sometimes the judge might decide to grant probation in a first DWI offense. Probation assigns you several terms and conditions, although it sidesteps your requirement to serve a jail term. These includes:
- Paying Fees: Ordinarily, a successful first DWI conviction subjects you to fines. However, there are several additional fees that you should pay, like probation supervision fees, restitution, and court costs. Generally, the court costs usually range between $300 to $400, while probation supervision fees are usually $60 per month
- Report to Probation Officers: everyone placed under DWI probation is assigned a probation officer who they should meet regularly. These meetings are usually held once per month and can be frequent depending on the level of risk an individual poses, and how compliant one is. The probation officer works for the judge to ensure that you fulfill the terms of the probation
- Attend Meeting: There are specific classes ordered to everyone placed under DWI probation. Some of these classes include DWI Education Program, local MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), among other options. You should complete these classes.
- Submit to Testing: In Texas, everyone placed under DWI probation should submit to periodic drug and alcohol tests. If traces of alcohol or drugs are tested, you will likely have to attend additional classes, community service hours or serve a jail term
- Community Service: Community service is also an option as part of your probation requirement. In most cases, you will have to go through the community service along with the DWI Education program
Civil Consequences for First Time DWI in Texas
Besides the criminal consequences that apply in a first-time DWI, there are civil consequences that apply and can be expensive and challenging. These includes:
Mandatory installation of an Ignition Interlock Device
DWI offenders can choose to install an ignition interlock device to avoid losing their driver's license. The device is typically ordered to an offender whose blood alcohol content was between 0.08% to 0.15%.
The ignition interlock device requires an individual to test his or her breath before starting the vehicle. The device prevents the car from starting once it detects alcohol in the driver's breath.
A DWI offender is also at risk of having his or her driver's license suspended after a successful first-time DWI conviction. However, you can opt-out of this option by installing an ignition interlock device, but only if the BAC level was under 0.15%.
The Department of Transportation also puts some additional surcharges for first time DWI offenders. They are expected to pay a $1,000 fine for three years. The amount would rise to $2000 when the driver's BAC level was at 0.16% during the arrest.
DWI Records on Background Checks
Most of the DWIs appear on background check, starting from 2017. This means that your DWI record will appear on public searches by landlords, employees, and other people in your personal or public life.
Penalties for a Second DWI in Texas
A second DWI offense is a class A misdemeanor in Texas, meaning that it is a step up from a Class B misdemeanor in a first-time offense.
A second DWI attracts a maximum fine of $4000 and a jail time for one month to a year. You'll probably face penalties at the higher end of the spectrum if there are severe circumstances related to your offense.
Those who are granted probation will have a mandatory sentence of five years, especially if they have five years between their first and second DWI.
You can also end up losing your driver's license to a suspension for a maximum of two years. If you want to retain your driver's license, you will have to pay a surcharge of $1,000, $1,500, or $2,000 for three years.
Please note, there is no limit on the time that should pass between your first and second DWI charges. Therefore, you can be charged for a second DWI even after a decade passes between the two charges and face the extra penalties that result.
Alternative Penalties for a Second DWI
There are specific alternative penalties that apply in a second DWI in Texas. These penalties are as follows:
- Suspension of your driver's license for 180 days to two years
- Community supervision
- Monthly reporting to a probation officer
- Community service for a maximum of 200 hours
- Mandatory attendance at an alcohol drug education program
- The requirement to file an SR-22 proof of liability insurance for at least two years
- Payment of all court costs and supervision fees required by the probation officer
- Seek permission before moving from one residence to another or seeking different employment from the probation officer
- Avoid committing any crimes during your probation period
Penalties for Third DWI
Under Texas law, a third DWI is a third-degree felony. These laws require the court to impose particular conditions on the bond as a condition of release from jail. These conditions include the requirement to install and use an ignition interlock device. Defense attorneys have been arguing against this requirement since it goes contrary to the presumption of innocence.
Statutory Requirements for a Third DWI under Texas Law
Under Texas law, a third DWI conviction attracts a minimum mandatory punishment that includes:
- A maximum fine of $10,000
- A court-imposed jail time in the Texas State Prison system for two to ten years
- A maximum of two years of probation
- A maximum of 600 hours of community service
- Driver's license suspension for a minimum of six months and a maximum of two years
- The loss of the right to own a firearm
- Surcharges of a maximum of $2000 every year for three years once you regain your license
- Mandatory attendance of DWI classes
Penalties for a Fourth DWI in Texas
The law in Texas does not have an increased punishment after a third DWI offense. However, the sentence will most probably be penitentiary confinement for two to ten years without the chance of probation.
A fourth DWI is usually pursued as a felony offense, meaning that it has severe consequences compared to other prior DWI convictions. The penalties for a fourth DWI offense include:
- A maximum fine of $10,000
- A prison term for two to ten years
- A driver's license suspension for a maximum of two years
- An annual surcharge of $2,000 for three years after retaining your driver's license
- Mandatory attendance to a DWI intervention program
- An optional installation of an ignition interlock device
- Submitting to random drug and alcohol test
- Completion of all mandatory probation requirement
Penalties for DWI with Manslaughter and Intoxication Assault
Sometimes a DWI offense can lead to intoxication assault charges. If a severe bodily injury occurs from a DWI accident, an alleged offender can face intoxication assault charges apart from the DWI penalties mentioned above.
In Texas, severe injuries are defined as injuries that cause substantial risk of death, loss of bodily member or organ, or severe disfigurement. Anyone charged with intoxication assault can face a third-degree felony, which is punishable with up to ten years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.
If a DWI accident causes death, the penalties are significantly enhanced. DWI accident that causes death to another person is a second-degree felony. A conviction can lead to a maximum of twenty years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Additionally, causing severe bodily injuries to specific people can elevate your offense to a second-degree felony. These people include:
- A peace officer
- A judge
- Emergency medical personnel
- Firefighter, including those in the organized volunteers' unit
Specifically, causing a severe bodily injury to a peace officer or a judge enhances your offense to a first-degree offense. The same applies when any of the people mentioned earlier dies due to a DWI accident. The penalties for a first-degree felony is five to ninety-nine years or life in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Collateral Consequences of DWI in Texas
There are other consequences for DWI conviction outside the penalties outlined by Texas DWI statutes. These consequences can have a severe impact on your professional life and your reputation amongst your peers. These collateral consequences are as follows:
Losing Your Job
Most employers have a zero-tolerance policy on your DWI conviction. Although you are innocent until proven guilty in court, your employer can decide to let you go once you have been arrested for DWI. Apart from that, with the ability to learn about a DWI offender's history during a background check, you might struggle to find employment once your potential employers know about your prior DWI charges.
Struggling to Find Housing
Employers are not the only person who will run a background history on you. Your potential landlords will also check your records before agreeing to a lease. Your potential landlord can fail to grant you the opportunity to reside in his or her home due to your prior DWI charges. However, this does not mean that landlords are under no obligation to rent to someone with a criminal background, indicating that this is only a personal choice.
Impact on your Custodial Rights
If you are going through a divorce and want to maintain custody of your child, your DWI conviction might deny your custodial rights. Your DWI conviction suggests lousy judgment, and the other parent might use the sentence against your right to your child's custody.
Loss of Your Professional License
Most licensing institutions have established strict rules prohibiting conducts like DWI conviction. Therefore, you can end up losing your professional license after a disciplinary hearing due to severe DWI offenses like intoxication assault. Some of the licenses affected by your DWI include a pilot's license, medical license, and nursing license.
Other Penalties Associated with DWI in Texas
There are specific penalties associated with DWI arrest and conviction. For instance, failure to take a breath test can severely affect you, despite the possibility of facing other DWI penalties. Let's have a look at these penalties.
Penalties for Failure to Take a Breath Test
In Texas, you consent to a breath or blood test upon arrest for DWI. This is referred to as the implied consent law. Therefore, failure to submit to a DWI test means that you can face severe consequences. For a first time refusal, you can lose your driver's license for 180 days. Those with prior DWI or refusal are at risk of losing their driver's license for two years.
The arresting officer will immediately take away your driver's license once you acknowledge that you refused to take a breath test. The arresting officer will then provide you with a Notice of Suspension, which works as a temporary driver's license so that you can drive for forty days. Drivers with the Notice of Suspension should contact the Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDPS) within fifteen days after the arrest and request a hearing. Failure to do so, the driver's license will be suspended for the maximum allowable period.
Consequences for Violating Probation Terms
Probation is meant to help a DWI offender stay in jail and serve a restrictive or monitored release. However, the probation carries specific terms and conditions like attending DWI classes, paying the cost, and participating in community services that an offender should adhere to upon release. Failure to adhere to these terms puts the driver at risk of severe consequences, which includes:
- Reinstatement of your jail term
- Suspension of your driver's license for a more extended period
- Additional fines
- Additional education courses
- Mandatory treatment
Please note, the consequences mentioned above vary according to the nature of the probation violation.
Find a DWI Defense Attorney Near Me
If you have been arrested and charged with a DWI in Texas, there are two cases against you. The first case is by the Texas Department of Public Safety, which suspends your driver's license and a criminal case with the state. You only have fifteen days to react to your TxDPS or end up losing your driver’s license. Apart from that, failure to present a strong defense against your criminal charges puts you at risk of facing severe consequences, as mentioned above.
To improve your chances of fighting your case, you need the help of a professional DWI defense attorney. At the Fort Worth DWI Defense Lawyer, we have a wealth of experience handling DWI cases and all related issues and are ready to build the strongest defenses to help you win or dismiss your case. To discuss your case and how we can help you, contact us today at 817-470-2128 and schedule an appointment with us.