Different Classifications of Punishments for Texas DWI Cases
How drunk driving penalties break down for teens and adults in Texas
If you face a drunk driving charge after an arrest for driving while intoxicated (commonly known as a “DWI” in Texas), then you should know about classifications of punishments for Texas DWI cases. Along with gaining such knowledge, you should contact an experienced Texas DWI defense lawyer for the Houston area to protect your legal rights.
Texas laws on driving while intoxicated hold that punishments can vary depending on a person’s age, license type, arrest frequency and other contributing factors.
Blood alcohol content (BAC) is a factor
First, you should know that your measured or detectable blood alcohol content, or BAC, is a factor in determining charges and punishments for drunk driving. Such measurements can be made by testing a driver’s blood, urine or breath.
In Texas and most other states, the legal range for drunk driving is a BAC of .08 percent or higher.
That holds for drivers who are 21 years old or older, but not for commercial drivers. For commercial drivers, the legal limit for drunk driving starts at just .04 percent.
Further, any amount of alcohol detected or measured in a person less than 21 years of age constitutes a driving under the influence of alcohol offense. Texas law holds that it’s illegal for any person under 21 years old to consume alcoholic beverages. If they’re driving under any amount of alcohol influence, the law has zero tolerance.
In fact, underage drivers need not be impaired. Any amount of alcohol in their system constitutes driving under the influence of alcohol, or DUIA.
Penalties and punishments for adult drunk driving in Texas
Under Texas laws on intoxication offenses, adults who are charged and convicted of drunk driving can face penalties and punishments including the following:
- Jail time (even for a first offense)
- Fines, surcharges, court costs and lawyer fees
- Suspension of a driver’s license
- Required hours of community service
- Required alcohol education programs
- Payment for and use of an ignition interlock device in one’s car
Also, they could face higher auto liability insurance rates, depending on their insurer.
First DWI adult offense
An adult arrested for a first-time DWI offense faces a Class B misdemeanor charge. Penalties include spending a minimum of 3 days (72 hours) in jail, or 6 days in jail if an open alcohol container was in your car at the time of your arrest. (Even a passenger can be fined $500 if there is an open alcohol container in the vehicle.)
Depending on the circumstances of the case, jail time for a first-time DWI offense could rise to 6 months (180 days).
Upon conviction, other penalties for a first-time DWI offense include suspending a driver’s license for at least 3 months (90 days) and for up to 1 year. Even without conviction, a positive test showing an illegal BAC means your driver’s license will be temporarily suspended.
When you’re finally able to regain your driver’s license, you may have to pay from $1,000 to $2,000 each year for a 3-year period to retain your driver’s license. On top of that, you may have to pay a separate fine to the state of as much as $2,000 for your DWI offense.
Beyond jail, you might be put on probation for a certain period of time. You also may have to participate in educational programs on alcohol abuse.
A first-time DWI offense can bring even tougher penalties if the driver had a child less than 15 years old in the vehicle. Then, the offense becomes a state jail felony, with punishments of 6 months to 2 years in state jail, a fine of as much as $10,000 and loss of a driver’s license for 6 months.
Second DWI adult offense
An adult arrested for a second DWI offense faces a Class A misdemeanor charge, which doubles the penalties upon conviction. Jail time can be 1 month to 1 year, and fines can be as much as $4,000.
Further, drivers may have their license suspended for up to 2 years. And to retain a driver’s license after that time, drivers may have to pay an annual fee to the state of $1,000, $1,500 or $2,000 for 3 years. (The same holds true for a third DWI conviction.)
Third DWI adult offense
An adult arrested for a third DWI offense faces a third degree felony charge. Upon conviction, punishments can include a fine of as much as $10,000 and prison time of 2 to 10 years.
Intoxication assault and vehicular manslaughter
Another third degree felony with identical punishments is intoxication assault, which means causing serious bodily injury while driving drunk.
Intoxication manslaughter, or killing a person while driving drunk, is a second degree felony with prison time of two to 20 years and a fine of as much as $10,000.
Such charges are independent of the number of drunk driving arrests.
Penalties and punishments for minor (teen) drunk driving in Texas
Texas law provides different punishments for minors convicted of drunk driving offenses. Even so, minors can be charged as adults for drunk driving.
In Texas, minors who are 16 years old shouldn’t be driving without an adult in the first place. At that age, a minor can only have a provisional driver’s license, or learner’s permit. That means an adult 25 years or older also must be in the vehicle with them. Under age 16, no minor can legally drive.
The state of Texas has a zero tolerance policy toward minors who drink and drive. That means a minor who drinks and drives can be arrested for having any amount of alcohol in his or her system.
If the amount is .8 percent or higher, the charge is DWI, or driving while intoxicated. If the amount is above .0 percent but below .8 percent, the charge is DUIA, or driving under the influence of alcohol.
In Texas, a minor is anyone under the age of 18. But since the legal drinking age in Texas is 21, Texas penalties for drunk driving by a minor also apply to persons who are 18 to 20 years old.
Jail time is unlikely for all offenses involving a minor 16 years old or younger.
First drunk driving offense for a minor or teen
A minor who is 17-20 years old and arrested for a first-time DWI offense faces a Class B misdemeanor charge. Penalties include a fine of up to $2,000, jail time of 3 to 180 days, and driver’s license suspension for 90 days to 1 year. They also may be required to take an alcohol education program of up to 12 hours and pay a yearly fee of $1,000 to $2,000 for 3 years to retain their driver’s license after its suspension ends.
For a first DWI offense only, a court may waive the driver’s license suspension and probate the jail sentence. Also, some minors may be given a penalty of community service. Upon completion, their driver’s license suspension will last only 90 days.
A minor 17-20 years old who’s arrested for a first-time DUIA offense (with a BAC under .8 percent) faces a fine of up to $500, 20 to 40 hours of community service, and driver’s license suspension for 60 to 180 days.
A minor who is 16 or younger and is arrested for a first-time DUIA offense faces a Class C misdemeanor charge. Conviction brings a fine of up to $500, driver’s license suspension for 60 to 180 days, and 20 to 40 hours of community service.
Second drunk driving offense for a minor or teen
A second DWI offense for a 17 to 20-year-old is a Class A misdemeanor with a fine of up to $4,000, jail time of 30 days to 1 year, and driver’s license suspension for 180 days to 18 months.
For a second-time DUIA offense the penalties are a fine of up to $500, 40 to 60 hours of community service, and driver’s license suspension for 120 days to 2 years.
A second offense for a minor who is 16 or younger is a Class C misdemeanor with penalties of a fine of up to $500, driver’s license suspension for 120 days to 2 years, and 40 to 60 hours of community service.
Three or more drunk driving offenses for a minor or teen
A third or subsequent offense is a third degree felony with a fine of up to $10,000, a prison sentence of 2 to 10 years, and driver’s license suspension for 180 days to 2 years.
For a third-time DUIA offense the penalties are a fine of up to $500, 40 to 60 hours of community service and driver’s license suspension for 180 days to 2 years.
A third DUIA offense for a minor who is 16 or younger is considered delinquent conduct by a minor 10 to 17 years old, with a fine of up to $2,000, driver’s license suspension for 180 days to 2 years, and 40 to 60 hours of community service.
Charged with drunk driving? Hire the best Texas DWI defense attorney immediately
As you can see, drunk driving punishments in Texas can be severe. Many people who are arrested are not guilty. For one thing, roadside breath tests often are inaccurate and may not reflect the actual amount of alcohol in a person’s system.
That’s why it’s important to get the best Texas DWI defense attorney you can find to protect your legal rights.
Contact the Neal Davis Law Firm today for a legal review of your DWI case in Houston, Harris County, Fort Bend County or Montgomery County. The tough punishments for Texas DWI cases should be worth a legal fight. Let our skilled Texas DWI defense lawyer help you.