DWI laws across the United States are getting more complex and detailed every year, especially when it comes to dealing with first time offenses – and Texas is no exception.
While the nuances of Texas DWI laws are complex, we wanted to offer a general overview of the main laws and the major categories of DWI offenses and penalties you are likely to encounter in 2017.
“Intoxicated” as Defined by Texas Law
Driving “under the influence” or “while intoxicated” has different legal definitions in each state, but in Texas, the term “intoxicated” is defined as:
- Not having the normal use of your mental and physical faculties due to the consumption of drugs or alcohol; and/or
- Having a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of .08 or more (for adult, non-commercial drivers)
If a police officer suspects a driver is intoxicated, they have to establish probable cause and provide evidence that the driver is indeed intoxicated. This usually involves observation of the driver, including their behavior, appearance, and speech, and may also incorporate field sobriety tests. These tests – including blood and breath tests – can be refused. However, because of the “implied consent” law, which states that by driving on the roads you automatically consent to sobriety tests, if you do refuse these tests, your license will be immediately suspended.
Another factor to consider is that when a driver is arrested for a DWI offense, two cases are filed against them: a civil case and a criminal case. The civil case, filed by the Department of Public Safety, involves the suspension of the driver’s license. The criminal case, however, is far more severe, and has escalating levels of punishment. It also carries heavy fines and the possibility of jail time.
3 Main Categories of DWI Offenses
- DWI first offense: If you have never been convicted of a DWI offense, then this is the most common and basic type of DWI offense you are likely to face. First offenses are Class “B” misdemeanors and are subject to a fine of up to $2,000 with the possibility of 3 to 180 days of county jail time. Your license will also be suspended, and depending on whether you refuse or fail a blood or breath test, the period of suspension can be anywhere from 90 days to 1 year. If you have been charged with your first offense DWI in Texas then read our guide here.
- DWI second offense: If you get hit with a second DWI offense, it instantly gets escalated to a Class “A” misdemeanor. Second-time offenses carry a fine of up to $4,000, 30 days to 1 year of county jail time, and your license can be suspended from anywhere from 180 days to two years. Also, depending on what county you live in, a judge may insist that an ignition interlock device (essentially a breathalyzer for your car, which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver is intoxicated) be installed in your vehicle as a condition of probation or pretrial release.
- DWI third offense: By the time you have racked up three offenses, you’ve also made the move from misdemeanor to third-degree felony, which means a possible 2 to 10 years in state prison, a $10,000 fine, and having your license suspended for a period of 180 days to 2 years. For third DWI offenses, by law, all judges will require an ignition interlock be fitted to your vehicle as a condition of probation or pretrial release.
Even though these 3 main categories seem pretty straightforward, it is important to note that they can become a lot more complicated, and the consequences far more severe depending on specific factors.
For instance, if you have an open alcohol container when you are stopped by police officers; if you have a minor in the car; if your BAC is extremely high; or if you were speeding excessively when you were pulled over, you may be subject to more fines. These cases are generally referred to as “aggravated DWIs.” These “aggravated” offenses can escalate your charge to a Class “A” misdemeanor or even a felony.
Aggravated DWI Offenses
- DWI with an open container of alcohol in your vehicle: Assuming it is your first offense, if you get stopped and you have an open alcohol container in your vehicle, you will be fined $2,000 (like a DWI first offense). This escalation is also a Class “B” misdemeanor.
- DWI .15 and above – If you submit to a blood or breath test and the results come back with a blood alcohol concentration of .15 or over, your charge could be escalated to a Class “A” misdemeanor. As mentioned above, the fine for this charge is $4,000, and carries with it the possibility of up to 1 year in county jail. Under Texas law, if you are convicted of this category of DWI, you may even have to submit to having an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle.
- DWI with a passenger under the age of 15 – If you happen to be stopped and found to be intoxicated with a minor in your car (even if it is your own child), your first offense DWI immediately escalates to a felony. This charge carries a hefty $10,000 fine with a possible 180 days to 2 years in a state prison.
- Intoxication assault – If you seriously injure another person while intoxicated, the charge is classed as a third-degree felony, which carries a penalty of between 2 and 10 years in state jail and a fine of up to $10,000. Most Texas judges will insist on an an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle for this offense.
- Intoxication manslaughter – Taking someone’s life while driving drunk is a second-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in a state prison and/or a fine of $10,000. Most Texas judges will also insist on an an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle for this type of offense.
Again, while these escalations seem relatively simple, there is no way to know how they will apply to your particular case. Your best defense strategy will always develop out of the unique circumstances surrounding your case, and will likely involve a complex combination of factors, including the conduct of the arresting officer.
When it comes to tackling DWI cases, your best chance of a fair hearing is to hire an attorney well-versed in the subtitles of DWI law to advise you on the best course of action for you. To discuss your case with one of our DWI specialist attorneys, contact Scheiner Law Group, P.C. today.