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DWI in Texas: Everything You Need to Know

Ben Michael

DWI convictions in Texas can result in different punishments depending on the circumstances of each case, but the consequences are always harsh. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about DWIs in Texas, including penalties, consequences, and defense strategies.

Driving While Intoxicated in Texas Penal Code

In Texas, it is illegal to operate any vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or controlled substances. The law applies to motor vehicles, watercraft, amusement rides, mobile amusement rides, and even aircraft.

Section 49.04 of the Texas Penal Code holds that “A person commits an offense if the person is intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public space.”

Texas’s definition of intoxication

There are clear definitions in the Texas Penal Code to describe what intoxicated means. 

The first definition states that “intoxicated” 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…”

This means that even if you are found to be driving while dosed up on over-the-counter medication, and your mental or physical faculties appear to be impaired, you can still be charged with a DWI.

The second definition of “intoxicated” is “having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.”

You don’t have to be drunk to get a DWI, as “intoxicated” does not necessarily imply intoxicated with alcohol. If it is found that your driving ability is impaired due to the consumption of substances such as Delta-8 or CBD, you could still be charged with a DWI.

Criminal Penalties for a DWI in Texas

The punishments for DWIs increase in severity with each subsequent charge and depending on whether there are any aggravating factors. 

For 1st DWI Offense:

You can expect to be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, and hit with the following:

  • A fine of up to $2,000
  • Up to 180 days in jail

For 2nd DWI Offense:

You will receive a Class A misdemeanor. This type of offense is only one level away from a felony, and the punishments increase to match. For 2nd DWI, punishments include:

  • A fine of up to $4,000
  • Up to one year in jail

For 3rd DWI Offense, and for Intoxication Assault:

This will no longer be considered a misdemeanor. Instead, a 3rd DWI offense will be considered a felony of the third degree. 

If you are charged with assaulting someone while intoxicated, you will also be charged with a third-degree felony, even if this was your first or second DWI. 

Punishment for a third-degree felony includes:

  • Between 2–10 years imprisonment
  • A fine of up to $10,000

Child Endangerment

If there was a child passenger under the age of 15 in your vehicle at the time of the DWI, you will face a child endangerment charge, which is a state-jail felony. Punishments include between 180 days and two years in jail, and a fine of up to $10,000. You will also have your driver’s license suspended for 180 days.

Open Container

If you are found with an open bottle, can, or other receptacle containing alcohol in the passenger area of your vehicle, regardless of whether the vehicle is moving or parked, or even if you are sober, this will negatively impact your DWI case. If there are no other aggravating factors, it can increase your jail time to up to six days.

BAC Content of 0.15% or Higher

If tests reveal that you had a BAC level of 0.15% or higher at the time of driving, you will be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. If this is not your first offense, charges could be further enhanced.

Serious Injury or Death

If you cause serious injury or death as a result of driving while intoxicated, this will be considered intoxication assault or intoxication manslaughter. They would result in a third-degree or second-degree felony respectively.

Administrative Penalties for DWI in Texas

DWIs come with a host of administrative penalties in addition to criminal penalties. These usually range from fines to suspension of your driver’s license. As with criminal penalties, administrative penalties also get harsher with each subsequent DWI.

DWI 1st Offense

  • You can be required to complete a 12-hour Alcohol Education Program within 180 days of the offense, or have your license revoked.
  • Your driver’s license can be suspended for up to one year.
  • You may have to pay a $100 reinstatement fee to get your license back after the suspension period.

Subsequent DWI Offenses

  • You can be required to complete a 32-hour DWI Repeat Offender Program within 180 days of the offense or have your driver’s license revoked.
  • Your driver’s license can be suspended for up to two years.
  • You may have to pay a $100 reinstatement fee to get your license back after the suspension period.

In addition to the above penalties, a state fine of $3,000, $4,500, or $6,000—determined at the time of sentencing—will apply. In most cases, you will also be required to fit an Ignition Interlock Device in your vehicle for a duration lasting between 90 days and two years.

Expunging DWI Charges from Your Personal Record in Texas

Despite what some people may believe, DWI charges are criminal convictions that remain on your record indefinitely unless action is taken to try to have them expunged or ‘sealed’. 

Expunction is when a criminal record is destroyed, whereas having charges or convictions ‘sealed’ will only hide them from public disclosure—though, even these will still be visible to certain government entities and criminal justice agencies.

Criminal convictions are not usually eligible for expunction, but you may still be able to get them sealed. To do this, you must file a petition for an Order of Nondisclosure.

In certain circumstances-for example where charges were brought against a person but the person was never convicted or the case was dismissed- an expunction may be possible. The same is true for crimes that the defendant received a conviction for, but was acquitted of on appeal at a later date.

In Texas, offenses that qualify for expunction include:

  • Class C misdemeanors resulting in deferred adjudication.
  • Offenses not resulting in conviction.

For a first-time DWI, under some circumstances, defendants may be able to petition for non-disclosure, however, there is a waiting time involved—usually, you can only petition when two years have passed since the completion of your sentence.

It’s important to remember that every case is different. If you need help with getting your record expunged or sealed, the best thing you can do is get in touch with an experienced lawyer who can talk you through your options.

Collateral Consequences for a DWI Conviction in Texas

The criminal penalties that come with a DWI are scary, but the truth is that even after paying for those penalties—both with time and money—the collateral consequences of a DWI will often linger, causing hardships elsewhere in life. Here, we break down some of the ways in which a DWI conviction can negatively impact your career, finances, housing, personal life, and more. 

Loss of Job

There are several ways in which a DWI can impact your career. For your current employment, many employers have a zero-tolerance policy for anyone convicted of a DWI. This is especially true if you are required to drive or use machinery as a part of your employment.

Additionally, when applying to a new position, most potential employers will run a background check on you. A DWI coming up on your record will convey the worst, even if this was a one-time mistake. Potential employers may not want to risk employing someone who might turn up to work intoxicated, hungover, or someone who they believe may be unreliable.

Impact on Custodial Rights

A DWI can negatively impact your child custody case. If you are applying for custody, then you need to demonstrate that you are a responsible and reliable adult and that having custody rights is in your child’s best interest.

Additionally, if you’ve been charged with a DWI, your partner can argue that you cannot provide your kids with safe transportation. If you have been charged with multiple DWIs, the case will become much more difficult as you may have to fight to prove that you do not have a substance abuse problem.

Loss of Gun Ownership Rights

The Texas Penal Code holds that if you are convicted of a Class A or Class B misdemeanor, you will lose your right to carry a handgun for five years, but you will still have a right to own your gun. If you are convicted of a felony, however, you will lose your right to own a gun.

Loss of Voting Rights

In Texas, you still have a right to vote even if you have been convicted of a misdemeanor. If you are convicted of a felony, you will lose your right to vote until after you have completed your full sentence.

Difficulties in Renting a Home

Just like potential employers, potential landlords will run background checks on you before deciding if they should lease their property to you. A DWI conviction can be a cause for concern for potential landlords and apartment managers—they will be hesitant to let someone move in if they believe there is a risk to their property, or if they believe a DWI conviction may point to loud, unsociable behavior that neighbors could complain about.

Remember, potential landlords, employers, and bank managers don’t know you personally. Even if the DWI was a one-time mistake, all they see is a blot on your character.

Loss of Professional Licenses

If you are charged with a DWI and you have a professional license, you may be at risk of losing it. Commercial driver’s licenses, teaching licenses, and medical licenses can all be affected by DWIs. In addition, if you are considering applying for a professional license, organizations will usually run a background check.

Defenses to DWI Charges in Texas

There are various defenses to DWI charges in Texas. Often, the circumstances of the arrest can aid in many winning DWI cases. An experienced DWI lawyer will study the circumstances of your arrest meticulously to build a strong case that can help you. 

The Results of a Chemical Breath or Blood Tests

The results of chemical, breath, and blood tests results are not always accurate, since they can sometimes give “false positives”. The state must be able to prove that the samples were taken properly.

Police Reports

The state must prove that the police officer had reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop. For an arrest, the state must prove that the law enforcement officer had probable cause.

The lack of either or both of these elements can lead to the case being dismissed, and any evidence gathered could be made invalid.

The prosecution must clearly list valid reasons for the officer’s reasonable suspicion, for example, a near-collision, erratic speeding and stopping, swerving, or driving on the shoulder.

The police officer must also list the reasons for probable cause, for example, they were able to smell alcohol on your breath, your eyes looked bloodshot, your speech was slurred, or you failed a field sobriety test.

While failing field sobriety tests count as probable cause, there may be defenses against red eyes, slurred speech, and the smell of alcohol–after all, the officer doesn’t know you, and therefore would not be able to accurately determine if that was your normal speech, and red eyes can be caused by illnesses or allergic reactions.

Your DWI lawyer may be able to use the information, or lack of information, in the police report to help your defense case.

Video as Proof of Innocence

Many law enforcement officers wear body cameras and equip their vehicles with dashcams. In addition to video footage obtained from bystanders and security cameras, any video footage of the arrest could be used to determine whether the field tests—and the arrest itself—were properly conducted. It may be possible to use video footage as a defense against DWI charges.

The Best Strategy if Charged With DWI in Texas

Texas has some of the harshest DWI laws in the United States, with collateral consequences that can have long-lasting negative implications on a person’s life. If you, or someone you care about, are facing DWI charges, it is imperative that you get in touch with an experienced DWI lawyer as soon as possible.

To improve your chances of getting the best possible outcome, be sure to pick a lawyer with a proven track record for success in DWI-related cases. Here at Michael & Associates, we have a decade’s worth of experience fighting DWIs. Don’t take chances when it comes to protecting your freedom, and your future. Get your free case review from Michael & Associates today.

Ben Michael

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.

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