It’s normal for people to make mistakes but some human errors have more grievous consequences than others. As a Texas resident, it’s essential to take a DUI charge very seriously as the authorities don’t take the offense lightly.
The penalties for a drunk driving conviction under the Texas DWI laws vary based on the individual’s criminal records and the situations surrounding the case. For instance, if the convicted person faced several DWI charges within a specified number of years or drove under the influence with a minor in the motor vehicle, the penalties may increase.
Other factors that determine how severe DUI/DWI penalties may become include reckless driving or driving with an open container.
Are you or a close relative facing a DUI/DWI case in Texas? This article explores vital things you need to know about Texas DUI/DWI laws, penalties, and punishments.
What Does DWI Mean?
Before addressing specific Texas DUI/DWI laws, penalties, and punishments, let’s understand first what the technical terms mean. The acronym DWI refers to ‘driving while intoxicated.’ Meanwhile, DWI doesn’t refer to alcohol alone.
According to Texas DWI law, a person is considered intoxicated if “they lack the normal use of mental or physical faculties due to the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body”.
Additionally, the law also considers driving while intoxicated to refer to “having an alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more”. The term alcohol concentration here is equivalent to the blood alcohol content (BAC) according to Texas DWI law.
For underage drivers (drivers below 21 years), the state takes a no-tolerance stance, making it illegal for them to drive with any detectable amount of alcohol in their bodies. If caught drunk driving, they could face a DWI charge under a “Class B misdemeanor”.
However, if the driver’s BAC is 0.15% or more, the charge will be filed under a Class A misdemeanor, which is worse. The offense goes further in gravity where controlled substances (including illegal drugs like cocaine or marijuana) were found with the offender.
What Does DUI Mean?
You may have also known that the acronym DUI refers to ‘driving under the influence.’ However, what’s the difference between driving under the influence and driving while intoxicated in TX law?
According to Texas laws, the most significant difference between DUI and DWI is the offender’s age. A DUI offender in Texas is a drunk driver less than 21 years old operating a motor vehicle “with any detectable amount of alcohol in his or her system”. Once you’re above 21 years, you’ll be charged with DWI.
Based on Texas DUI laws, the authorities don’t have to confirm the presence of intoxication but that the minor had any detectable alcohol in their system. In such situations, the offense is a Class C misdemeanor, which attracts a maximum fine of $500.
That said, a DUI charge could become more severe and take on stiffer punishments if the minor’s system contained a high level of BAC or if they were under the influence of illegal drugs like marijuana. Additionally, an earlier conviction on DUI charges also increases the gravity of a DUI charge, especially if the defendant is between 18 and 21 years.
Penalties and Punishments for DWI in Texas
Having understood what DUI and DWI mean, you’re possibly wondering what the repercussions of such offenses are. We now look into the punishments and penalties for driving while intoxicated in Texas.
First-Time DWI Offense
If you’re an adult facing a DWI arrest for the first time, it’s a Class B misdemeanor, and offenders must spend at least 72 hours behind bars. Additionally, if the offender had an open alcohol container in their vehicle, they must spend a minimum of six days in jail. That said, the maximum prison term for first-time DWI offenders is six months or 180 days.
Moreover, being a Class B misdemeanor, a first offense implies that Texas authorities would suspend your driver’s license for between 90 days and one year. Suppose you tested positive for a high BAC through a person’s blood, urine, or breath sample. A suspension of your driver’s license is almost inevitable, regardless of whether you were convicted or not.
However, you could challenge such a driver’s license suspension within 15 days after you got notification of the suspension. Your challenge of the suspension would mean that you’re requesting a hearing during which you can contest it.
Besides the likely suspension of your driver’s license and jail time, a first-time DWI offender must pay fines to the state. The fine for first-time DWI offenses could be as high as $2,000. Moreover, the state may require you to remit between $1,000 to $2,000 annually for three years after the conviction to keep your driving license.
Additionally, you may come under probation for a specified period or have to participate in specialized educational events concerning substance abuse. Refusal to abide by such requirements could result in you forfeiting your driver’s license.
DWI With a Child Passenger
The punishments are more stringent for driving while intoxicated with a passenger under 15 years. Even if there are no previous DWI convictions, DWI with a child passenger is a state jail felony that requires a fine of up to $10,000 and a prison term of up to two years. Moreover, the offender will forfeit his or her driver’s license for 180 days.
A Second Case of DWI
A second offense is tagged a Class A misdemeanor and has twice the $2,000 fine for a Class B misdemeanor (offenders will pay $4,000). Additionally, a jail term could take up to one year, also twice the maximum of a Class B misdemeanor.
Furthermore, after a second DWI conviction, an offender would forfeit their driver’s license for 18 months, and the defendant will also have to pay $100 to regain their license after.
Third Case of DWI or Intoxication Assault
A third DWI conviction is equivalent to a third-degree felony in the state, and such an offense gets a criminal penalty of between two to 10 years of jail time, plus a fine of up to $10,000 and automatic suspension of the offender’s driving license.
That said, an intoxication assault is also equivalent to a third-degree felony. An intoxication assault means a driver caused serious bodily injury to another person because alcohol or drugs impaired their mental or physical faculties, and it bears the same penalties as a third DWI charge.
Intoxication manslaughter implies that a drunk driver accidentally killed someone and is worse than a third DWI charge. It’s a second-degree felony and gets a fine of up to $10,000 and a jail time of between two to 20 years.
The state may also require hundreds of hours of community service from the offender and an ignition interlock device installed in your car if you’re allowed to drive.
Getting Arrested for DWI Without Actually Driving
In Texas, motorists can get a DWI even if they aren’t driving. The law defines DWI as ‘operating’ a vehicle while intoxicated or with an illegal BAC. Therefore, although driving is sufficient for a DWI charge, it isn’t required. According to Texas courts, the term ‘operate’ is extensive and includes any action that affects the functioning of a vehicle in a manner that “enables its use”.
Penalties and Punishments for a DUI Charge in Texas
DUI penalties and punishments tend to be less stringent compared to DWI charges, and that’s the situation since DUI applies to minors. The following are the penalties or punishments in Texas DUI law for the different categories of DUI charges in the state.
First DUI Case
A first DUI offense is tagged a Class C misdemeanor, and a conviction carries a fine of up to $500 without a prison term. That said, the minor could get their driver’s license suspended for 60 days. Moreover, a first-time DUI offense may get between 20 to 40 hours of community service, plus an alcohol treatment program on substance abuse.
Second and Third DUI Charges
After a second DUI conviction, a third DUI offense becomes a Class B misdemeanor. A Class B misdemeanor, in this case, could involve a jail time of up to 180 days (for minors between 18 and 21 years). Also, the offense can involve a fine of up to $2,000.
Texas BAC Limits and Per Se DUIs
Per se DUI is another term in the Texas DUI legal register. When the courts assess a drunk driving offense based on BAC rather than the driver’s impairment level, it’s termed a ‘per se’ DWI. Note that the amount of alcohol a driver must take to reach the legal limit depends on various factors like their body weight, number of drinks, alcohol strength of the drink, or gender.
Administrative Penalties or Punishments
In Texas, you could face other penalties or punishments for driving under the influence or refusing a BAC test. These civil penalties, known as Administrative License Revocation (ALR), could result in a driver’s license suspension if the motorist refused a chemical test. These penalties, administered by the Department of Public Safety, are in addition to the outcome of criminal court proceedings.
Rejecting a Blood or Breath Test in TX
According to Texas law, implied consent laws require that all drivers submit to a blood or breath test upon a lawful arrest for a DWI/DUI offense. Motorists who refuse testing face a driver’s license suspension of up to 180 days. Upon a second refusal of the BAC test, the motorist risks losing their driver’s license for up to two years.
For each chemical test failure (BAC of 0.08% or higher), adults face a prison term of 90 days on a first failure and a prison term of one year upon a second failure. Minors (motorists under 21 years) face a prison term of 60 days upon a first refusal and a prison term of 120 days upon a second failure.
To determine the penalties for a second or third refusal, the state counts prior DWI convictions, denials, and failed BAC tests (0.08% or more) within the last 10 years.
Here’s how chemical test refusals, failures, and ALR usually occur. The motorist refuses or fails a chemical test. Consequently, a law enforcement officer takes their driver’s license and issues them a temporary driving permit. The motorist has 15 days to request a hearing, after which the state will deny any hearing request.
If the motorist doesn’t make any hearing request, their license suspension begins 40 days after the arrest. Moreover, the convicted individual will afterward pay a fee of $125 to retrieve their driver’s license.
Bargaining Pleas in Texas DUI Cases
If you get convicted of a DWI in Texas, there may be some hope that the court will ultimately dismiss the charges. However, unless the court throws away critical evidence that supports the charge, the chances that the prosecutor will agree to a total dismissal are slim. However, in some situations, the offender may get a reduction to a wet reckless charge. A wet reckless charge deals with a reckless driving offense that involves alcohol or drugs.
Reinstating Your Texas Driving License
If an officer suspended your driver’s license in Texas over a DWI conviction, here’s the general procedure for reinstating a driver’s license. First, the convicted motorist must complete their license revocation, jail term, educational program, or community service hours. Also, they must pay their DWI fines.
Then, the defendant must pay all applicable license reinstatement and maintenance fees. Meanwhile, some fees depend on the motorist’s age or circumstances, like the $125 fine as punishment for a blood alcohol concentration offense. That said, there are also annual surcharges related to the Driver Responsibility Program, which could range from $1,000 to $2,000 annually for three years.
Protect Yourself and Speak with an Expert DUI/DWI Attorney in Texas Now
You have 15 days to keep your driver’s license from suspension. If a police officer arrested you for drugged driving, two cases are standing before you. The first case is a criminal case by Texas state, while the second is by the Texas Department of Public Safety regarding a license suspension.
Under the misdemeanor classifications, you may be eligible for probation. However, a convicted driver has no guarantee of getting a probated fine or prison sentence.
Suppose the court or jury convicted a driver of intoxication assault and granted them probation, a minimum of 30 days behind bars is compulsory as a probation requirement. In case of intoxication manslaughter, the driver has to spend between 120 to 180 days in prison as a mandatory probation requirement.
However, where a driver got convicted of intoxication assault or intoxication manslaughter, and the jury or court discovers that they committed the crime with a deadly weapon, they may be ineligible for probation.
That said, many DUI/DWI charges have faulty evidence supporting them, such as erroneous digits from an untrustworthy breathalyzer test. Also, a police officer’s subjective approach to your particular situation might be faulty.
You don’t want a defective breath test or some other shaky evidence to decide your fate. Rather, get the best Texas DUI/DWI defense attorney you can find to protect your constitutional rights and privileges.
Supposed you’ve been charged with DUI or DWI in Texas, you already know that the potential consequences and penalties are serious. Texas criminal law, especially when it comes to aggravated DWI or DUI comes with severe punishments as you’ve seen.
The best thing to do is to hire a criminal defense lawyer immediately after a DUI/DWI arrest. Thankfully, there are thousands of law firms to check, but ensure you hire a skilled attorney.
If you’re seeking a competent Texas DWI attorney, it’s crucial to act right away and hire an experienced DUI defense attorney in the state. Regardless of the charges, Texas drunk driving laws and punishments are steep.
Your best bet is to contact an experienced Texas attorney in DUI or DWI cases who have the needed competence to fight tough for your rights and privileges under the law.
You wouldn’t have any difficulty finding a law firm that’s focused on improving their attorney-client relationship to handle your DUI or DWI charge and get you fewer punishments or outright case dismissal.