Everyone makes mistakes. But some mistakes have more serious consequences than others. If you or a loved one have been charged with drunk driving in Texas, you must take this offense extremely seriously, because Texas officials and police certainly do.
Here’s what you need to know about the laws and penalties of DWI/DUI.
First, let’s understand what DWI means. The acronym stands for driving while intoxicated, but DWI doesn’t refer only to alcohol.
Texas DWI law (known as Texas Penal Code Section 49.04) holds that intoxication while operating a motor vehicle means “not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of 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.”
It also considers DWI to be “having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.” (Alcohol concentration is also known as BAC, or blood alcohol content.)
Under Texas DWI laws, individuals 21 years old or older who fall into these categories can be charged with DWI, which is a Class B misdemeanor. But if their BAC is 0.15 percent or higher, the charge becomes a Class A misdemeanor, which is worse.
The charge can also be elevated if controlled substances (illegal drugs such as cocaine) were involved.
You may also be familiar with the term “DUI,” or driving under the influence.
What is DUI, and how does driving under the influence differ from driving while intoxicated (DWI)?
Under Texas law, the biggest difference between DWI and DUI is age. DUI pertains only to minors under the age of 21 who operate a motor vehicle (which can be a watercraft as well as an automobile) “with any detectable amount of alcohol in the minor’s system.” That’s according to Texas Penal Code Section 106.041.
Under Texas’ drunk driving laws for minors, the state doesn’t have to prove intoxication but rather that any detectable amount of alcohol was in the minor’s system. Such a DUI charge is a Class C misdemeanor, which brings a maximum fine of $500.
However, a DUI charge can be elevated to a more serious DWI charge with stiffer punishments if the minor had a high BAC or was under the influence of any illegal drugs, including marijuana. Prior DUI convictions can also elevate a DUI charge, particularly if the defendant, while a minor under 21, isn’t a child under 18.
Now you may be wondering about what the penalties or punishments are for DWI.
First, if you are an adult who has been arrested for DWI for the first time, that is a Class B misdemeanor, and you must spend at least 72 hours—or 3 days—in jail. In addition, if you had an open alcohol container in your vehicle, you must spend at least 6 days in jail.
The maximum jail time for a first-time DWI offense is 180 days, or 6 months.
As a Class B misdemeanor, a first-time DWI offense also means you will have your driver’s license suspended for between 90 days and 1 year. Even if you aren’t convicted, if you tested positive for a high BAC via a blood, breath or urine sample, your driver’s license will be suspended.
You can challenge such a driver’s license suspension. But keep in mind that you have just 15 days from being notified of the suspension to request a hearing at which you can challenge it.
A first-time DWI offender must also pay fines to the state. Such fines can be as high as $2,000. Also, you may be required to pay between $1,000 and $2,000 per year over the next 3 years in order to keep your driver’s license.
On top of that, you may be placed under probation for a period of time, and you may be required to attend or participate in special educational programs which concern alcohol abuse. Failure to complete such programs may result in losing your driver’s license.
Penalties are more severe for driving while intoxicated with a child passenger who was younger than 15 years old. Even with no prior DWI convictions, that is a state jail felony and it carries a fine of up to $10,000 and jail time of 180 days to 2 years. Also, you will lose your driver’s license for 180 days.
A second DWI offense is a Class A misdemeanor. The fine then doubles from the $2,000 fine for a Class B misdemeanor to a $4,000 fine for a Class A misdemeanor. Also, jail time can be as much as 1 year, which is also double the maximum for a first offense.
In addition, after a second DWI conviction your license will be suspended for 18 months, and you will have to pay $100 to regain your license after that time.
A third DWI charge is a third degree felony. Such a crime brings criminal punishment of at least 2 years and up to 10 years in prison, along with a fine of up to $10,000.
Intoxication assault is also a third degree felony, which means you cause serious bodily injury to someone while driving drunk. It carries the same penalties as a third DWI charge.
Worse is intoxication manslaughter, which means you accidentally killed someone while driving drunk. That is a second degree felony, which carries a fine of up to $10,000 and a prison sentence of at least 2 years and up to 20 years.
Hundreds of hours of community service may also be required.
As for DUI penalties or punishments, these tend to be less severe, since they are applied to minors.
A first-time DUI offense is a Class C misdemeanor, and the offender faces a fine of up to $500 but will not have to spend any time in jail. However, the minor can have his or her driver’s license suspended for 60 days.
In addition, a first-time DUI offender may be required to perform 20 to 40 hours of community service and to complete an educational program related to alcohol abuse.
After two DUI convictions, a third DUI offense becomes a Class B misdemeanor. Such an offense can involve a fine of up to $2,000 and jail time of up to 180 days for minors who are not children (those who are over the age of 18, but under 21).
If you or a loved one faces a drunk driving charge, you can see how serious (if not downright extreme) the consequences of intoxication offenses can be.
Many drunk driving charges are based on faulty evidence, such as numbers provided by defective and untrustworthy breathalyzer tests. A police officer’s subjective view of your driving may also be inaccurate.
If you live in Fort Bend County, Montgomery County, Houston or elsewhere in Harris County or Southeast Texas, contact the Neal Davis Law Firm today for a prompt and legal review of your DWI or DUI case.
As you can see, Texas DUI and DWI laws and punishments are serious, and they demand a serious and tough legal response. Notify us today, and let’s get started protecting your legal rights.