Each year, U.S. DWI laws increasingly become convoluted and comprehensive. And the constant changes in DWI laws have led to great confusion among offenders, especially first-time offenders. All states, Texas included, are affected by them.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of the Texas DWI laws – main and major DWI offense categories – along with the possible consequences associated with a conviction.
How Does Texas Law Define “Intoxicated”
Each state has its own definition for DUI and DWI, and in Texas, the law defines intoxicated as:
- A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher (applies to non-commercial adult drivers)
- Altered physical and mental faculties resulting from alcohol or drug consumption
When a police officer must have probable cause to pull over a driver he/she suspects is under the influence. From there, they must offer up evidence that “proves” the driver is intoxicated, such as observing the driver’s behavior, speech and appearance. The officer will suggest the driver undergo a series of field sobriety tests such as breath and blood tests. The driver is permitted to decline to take them, but under Texas’ “implied consent” law, doing so leads to an automatic suspension of their license.
All DWI-suspected drivers face two different kinds of cases – criminal case and civil case.
A Look At The 3 Key Types Of DWI Offenses
DWI First Offense
A person who has never been convicted of DWI will face a first offense DWI charge. A first offense for DWI is classified as a “Class B misdemeanor” with a probable punishment of a $2,000 fine and three to 180 days in county jail.
In the civil case, the convicted person’s license will be suspended, which could last up to one year (depending on the driver’s compliance or refusal to do the breath or blood tests).
DWI Second Offense
A person suspected of a second DWI offense will be charged with a “Class A misdemeanor” and could face a $4,000 fine, spend anywhere from 30 days to one year in county jail and have their license suspended for no less than 180 days to no more than two years.
Depending on the Texas county in which you live, a judge may demand the installation of an ignition interlock device (a breathalyzer for your vehicle that keeps it from starting if the driver is drunk) as a condition of pre-trial release or probation.
DWI Third Offense
If a person is arrested for a third time on suspicion of DWI, they face a “third-degree felony” that could result in a punishment of two to 10 years in state prison, license suspicion of up to two years and a fine of up to $10,000.
With a third-offense DWI, all judges will demand the installation of an ignition interlock device during a pre-trial release or probation.
Each of the above categories comes across as reasonably easy to understand. However, certain factors of the DWI case can cause them to become more complex with severe consequences.
For example, you could be subjected to higher fines if you are found with an open alcohol container when pulled over, have a minor in the vehicle, were excessively speeding or had an excessive BAC level. These types of DWIs are known as aggravated DWIs, which can lead to a Class A misdemeanor or felony DWI charge on a first offense.
A Look At Aggravated DWI Offenses
Open Alcohol Container DWIs
If you are pulled over and found to possess an open alcohol container in the vehicle, you will face a “Class B misdemeanor” and could face a $2,000 fine.
DWI .15 or Higher
You could face a “Class A misdemeanor” charge if your blood or breath alcohol concentration is .15 or more. This charge can result in a $4,000 fine and potentially one year in county jail. According to Texas law, a conviction under this charge means the installation of an ignition interlock device.
DWI with under 15 passengers
If a police officer pulls you over for suspicion of DWI, and you have a minor in your vehicle, the first offense automatically becomes a felony. A felony conviction may result in a $10,000 fine and between 180 days and two years in state prison.
If you’re under the influence and injure someone else, the charge is upgraded to a “third-degree felony.” This punishment for this charge may mean up to 10 years in state prison and a $10,000 fine. The majority of Texas judges will demand your vehicle have an ignition interlock device installed.
If you drive drunk and kill someone, you will be charged with a second-degree felony. A felony conviction of this type means state imprisonment of between two and 20 years and a possible fine of $10,000. Again, the majority of judges in Texas will order the installation of an ignition interlock device.
Each case is different, so there is no way to know how the aggravated DWI offenses will affect your case. Your attorney will use the circumstances involved in your case to develop the best possible defense strategy. These circumstances may also involve the arresting officer’s conduct.
If you are facing a DWI charge in Denton County or the surrounding area, contact our office today for a free consultation.