A Guide to Texas DWI Laws and Penalties
Everything is bigger in Texas and in some ways, that includes the DWI laws and penalties.
Navigating the DWI laws in the state of Texas can be difficult. The laws are complex, and there are multiple categories of DWI offenses and penalties that you need to be aware of in 2017. This overview will help you sort through the complexities of the law, and understand them better.
Texas interprets the term “intoxicated” as not being in full control of your mental and physical functions as a result of your consumption of alcohol or drugs, and/or having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher (for adults who are not commercial drivers).
When a police officer believes that a driver may be intoxicated, they need to establish probable cause, and must give evidence that the driver is actually intoxicated. Probable cause includes observing the driver’s behavior, speech, and appearance.
The police officer may use a field sobriety test, which can include blood and breath tests, which the driver does have the right to refuse. However, it’s important to note that there are “implied consent” laws in Texas, which means that when you drive on Texas roads, you are automatically consenting to sobriety tests. So while you can refuse the tests, your license will be suspended immediately if you do.
One fact that drivers are often unaware of is that a driver who is arrested for DWI will usually have two cases filed against them: a criminal case and a civil case. The criminal case is the most severe, with escalating levels of possible punishment, along with stiff fines and possible jail time. The civil case will be filed by the Department of Safety and usually results in suspension of the driver’s license.
3 DWI Offense Categories
DWI First Offense:
If you’ve never been convicted in a DWI case before, this is the typical charge you will face. First-time DWI offenses are considered a Class B misdemeanor, with a possible penalty of 3 to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. You’ll have your driver’s license suspended for a period of between 90 days to 1 year, depending on if you refused or failed the breath or blood test.
DWI Second Offense:
If this is your second DWI offense, your charge will automatically be elevated to a Class A misdemeanor, which carries fines of up to $4,000 plus a sentence of 30 days to 1 year of time in the county jail. License suspension will last from 180 days to 2 years. In some counties, a judge may require that your car be fitted with an ignition interlock device as a condition of your release pretrial or for probation. This device is like a breathalyzer attached to your car, which will prevent the car from being started until you breathe into the device and pass the test.
DWI Third Offense:
If you’re on your third DWI offense, the charge is instantly escalated to a third-degree felony, which carries a penalty of 2 to 10 years in the state prison, plus a $10,000 fine. Your license will be suspended for 180 days to 2 years. For all third or multiple DWI offenses the judge by law must require that your vehicle be fitted with an ignition interlock as a condition of a possible pretrial release or for probation.
Although these 3 main DWI offense categories appear fairly simple, other specific factors can greatly complicate the severity of the consequences. Such instances include: an open container of alcohol in the vehicle, a minor being present in the vehicle, an extremely high BAC, or excessive speeding at the time you were pulled over. These factors can raise the offense to an “aggravated DWI” offense, and the fines you’ll be subject to can be much higher. The charge could even be escalated to a Class A misdemeanor or a felony.
Aggravated DWI Offense Charges
DWI With An Open Container:
If it’s your first offense when you’re found with an open alcohol container in the vehicle, you’ll be subject to the usual first-offense fine of $2,000, but your charge will be raised to a Class B misdemeanor.
DWI With A BAC Of .15 And Above:
If your blood or breathalyzer test results are .15 or higher, you could receive an elevated charge of a Class A misdemeanor. The fine would be $4,000 and you could face up to a 1 year sentence in the county jail. A driver convicted of this type of aggravated DWI offense could, by law, be required to have an ignition interlock device fitted to his or her vehicle.
DWI With A Passenger Under Age 15:
If you are pulled over with a minor passenger in your car, even if the child is yours, and are found to be intoxicated, then the charge will immediately be escalated to a felony even if it is your first DWI charge. This aggravated DWI offense carries a heavy fine of $10,000 and up to 180 to 2 years in the state prison.
If you are responsible for causing severe injuries to another person while you are intoxicated, you will be charged with a third-degree felony. The penalty could be anywhere from 2 to 10 years in the state prison, and you could be fined up to $10,000. Most judges in Texas will mandate that an ignition interlock device be installed on your car for this aggravated offense.
If you take someone’s life while driving intoxicated the charge will be a second-degree felony, and face a penalty of 2 to 20 years in the state prison and/or a $10,000 fine. In Texas, most judges will also require that your vehicle have an ignition interlock device placed in it for this aggravated offense.
Even though these charge escalations may also appear fairly easy to understand, there is just no way to be sure how the district attorney will apply them to your case. The best strategy in your defense will need to be developed based on the unique circumstances of your particular case. The complexity of your case could be more involved depending on several factors, including the conduct of the officer or officers who made the arrest.
It’s important that your case be handled by a Houston Texas DWI lawyer who understands these complexities and has the experience to create a detailed strategy that will take advantage of all the factors of your case, and aggressively advocate on your behalf in order to get you the best possible outcome.