DWI accident charges in Texas can result in imprisonment and thousands of dollars in fines. The severity of the charges, and therefore the consequences, will depend on the seriousness of the accident. For example, you’ll face harsher penalties if the accident results in serious injury or death.
In this guide, we break down the full legal implications of DWI accident charges in Texas.
What is DWI (DUI) in Texas?
In Texas, it’s illegal to operate a vehicle in a public place while you are intoxicated. “Intoxicated” does not necessarily refer to being drunk—you can still be charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) if your driving is impaired due to taking drugs, including over-the-counter medication that causes drowsiness.
The Penal Code provides the following definitions of “intoxicated” according to Texas law:
(A) 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; or
(B) having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.Texas Penal Code Sec. 49.01
DWI is different from DUI (Driving Under the Influence) which is reserved for minors who are caught driving with any amount of alcohol in their system—regardless of whether their driving is impaired.
A minor who is driving while intoxicated, however, can be charged with DWI as an adult as well.
Types of Charges from a DWI (DUI) Accident in Texas
The type of charges you face after a DWI accident will depend on the presence—and severity—of damage and injury, or even death, that is caused. Other aggravating factors, such as the presence of a child passenger in your vehicle at the time of the DWI offense or a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) of 0.15 or higher, can also influence the level of charges.
Furthermore, if the victim of a DWI accident was an on-duty firefighter or emergency medical worker, the associated penalties are typically harsher.
DWI Accidents Without Injury
If you are charged with DWI for the first time, and no one is injured in the accident, you’ll face a Class B misdemeanor. The legal penalties of a first-time DWI include:
- Up to 180 days in jail
- A fine of up to $2,000
You will also face a driver’s license suspension and a state fine issued by the court at the time of your sentencing.
As far as DWI accidents go, the best outcome is if no one is injured and no one else’s property is damaged. However, if you’ve damaged your own vehicle, you can expect collateral consequences. For a start, your insurance provider will likely increase the cost of your coverage.
Second and subsequent DWI offenses are met with harsher punishments. If you have previous DWIs on your record, you can face the following legal consequences:
- Class A misdemeanor
- Up to one year in jail
- A fine of up to $4,000
Third and subsequent DWI (Multiple DWI Arrests):
- Third-degree felony
- 2–10 years imprisonment
- A fine of up to $10,000
Causing serious bodily injury to another person as a result of driving while intoxicated is considered “Intoxication Assault.”
“Serious bodily injury,” as defined in the Texas Penal Code, is an injury that creates:
- a substantial risk of death;
- serious disfigurement; or
- protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.
Intoxication Assault is a third-degree felony, and penalties include a jail sentence of between 2–10 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
However, if the victim of the Intoxication Assault was a firefighter or an emergency medical worker on duty, the charges are enhanced to a second-degree felony.
The legal penalties for a second-degree penalty include:
- 2–20 years imprisonment
- A fine of up to $10,000
DWI Accident Resulting in Another’s Death
If anyone dies as a result of your DWI accident, whether at the scene or later, through fatal injuries, you can face Intoxication Manslaughter charges.
Intoxication Manslaughter is a second-degree felony, punishable by between two and twenty years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
DWI Accident Resulting in Damage or Destruction
If your DWI accident results in the damage or destruction of property, you can face other criminal charges, such as Reckless Damage or Criminal Mischief, in addition to your DWI. Convictions for either will result in criminal penalties ranging from a fine to jail time, depending on severity.
Reckless Damage or Destruction
Under Texas Penal Code § 28.04, “a person commits an offense if, without the effective consent of the owner, he recklessly damages or destroys property…” belonging to the owner.
Reckless damage is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500. As well as the fine and any associated legal fees, you’ll be expected to pay restitution to the property owner.
The difference between Reckless Damage and Criminal Mischief is the defendant’s level of culpability. While acting recklessly is defined in Texas law as when a person “…consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk…” of their actions, Criminal Mischief refers to when a person intentionally or knowingly causes damage or destruction to someone else’s property.
But you don’t have to intend to cause damage to be charged with Criminal Mischief. If there is evidence that you were “reasonably certain” that your actions—in this case, driving while intoxicated—would result in an accident and property damage, you can be charged with Criminal Mischief.
The severity of the damage caused by your DWI accident will decide the level of the charges you receive, but Criminal Mischief can range from a Class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony.
- Class C Misdemeanor: If the damage caused is less than $100 or causes substantial inconvenience to others.
- Class B Misdemeanor: For damage between $100 and $750.
- Class A Misdemeanor: For damage between $750 and $2,500 or damage that results in the impairment or interruption of public water supply.
- State Jail Felony: For damage between $2,500 and $30,000.
- Third-degree Felony: For damage between $30,000 and $150,000.
- Second-degree Felony: For damage between $150,000 and $300,000.
- First-degree Felony: For damage of $300,000 or more.
Lookback Period in Texas
There is no look-back provision in Texas. You can be charged with a DWI regardless of when the offense happened. Furthermore, a prior DWI on your record can enhance present charges—irrespective of when the original offense occurred.
Similarly, if you receive a DWI conviction today, it can be used to enhance future DWI charges, even if there are decades between them.
Is There a Requirement to Take a Chemical Test?
Under normal circumstances, if you are arrested for a DWI, you have the right to refuse chemical tests—though not without consequences.
However, some circumstances grant police officers the authority to compel you to provide a breath or blood sample.
You must submit a sample for chemical testing if you have been arrested for DWI and:
- You’ve been in an accident that has resulted in serious bodily injury or death of another person
- You have a previous conviction for DWI with a minor
- You have two previous DWI convictions
- You have a prior Intoxication Assault or Intoxication Manslaughter conviction
It’s worth remembering that even if the above statements do not apply to you, the police officer can still get a blood search warrant if you refuse to submit to chemical testing.
How Drunk Driving Accidents Differ from Regular Car Accidents
All car accidents can result in damage, serious injuries, and even death. In both drunk driving accidents and regular accidents, there will be an attempt afterward to assign liability.
However, there is a significant difference between drunk driving accidents and non-alcohol-related accidents when it comes to determining fault.
Put simply, most car accident lawsuits are based on negligence, which is much easier to prove if it can be shown that the defendant was drunk at the time of the crash. In non-DWI-related accidents, the injured person must prove the following elements of negligence by the defendant:
- Duty of care
- Breach of duty
In DWI-related accidents, however, proof of DWI constitutes negligence (negligence per se), meaning the victim only needs to show that the driver caused them harm—the first two elements are already proven.
Another way in which drunk driving accidents differ from regular car accidents is the seriousness of the injuries and damage caused. Drivers who are intoxicated are more likely to drive at high speeds and take unnecessary risks, which—when combined with delayed reaction times—can end in catastrophic accidents. In fact, the Texas Department of Transportation claims that in 2022 alone, drunk driving caused the equivalent of three deaths per day (for one year) in Texas.
Because of the seriousness of DWI accidents, an individual convicted of drunk driving may also have to pay punitive damages. These additional fines are there to penalize the driver and serve as a warning to others, which is why they are sometimes called “exemplary damages.”
The Best Strategy for DWI Accident Charge Defense in Texas
A DWI, be it alone or for Intoxication Assault or Manslaughter, is a serious conviction that remains on a person’s record permanently. The immediate legal penalties are severe, and typically include imprisonment and thousands of dollars in fines.
In addition to the legal penalties associated with DWI accident charges, you will be expected to pay restitution if convicted—but that’s not all: the collateral consequences of a DWI conviction go beyond jail time and fines. Your criminal record can stop you from finding employment, securing accommodation, and applying for loans.
DWI charges don’t always result in a conviction, however. With help from an experienced criminal defense attorney, you can fight back against your charges and maybe even have them dismissed entirely. If an outright dismissal isn’t possible, a skilled DWI lawyer can negotiate a better outcome for you.
If you are facing DWI accident charges, get a free case review today from Michael & Associates. We’ll have an open and honest discussion about your circumstances and formulate a defense that’s tailored for you.
Ben has vast experience in defending criminal cases ranging from DWIs to assault, drug possession, and many more. He has countless criminal charges dismissed and pled down. Among many other awards, one of the Top 10 Criminal Defense Attorneys in Texas and winner of Top 40 under 40.