Drunk driving offenses are treated seriously in Texas, and convictions can often lead to jail time and fines. The exact sentence for a DWI in Texas will depend on the circumstances of the case. For a 1st DWI, with no aggravating factors, you can expect up to 180 days of jail time.
But even with a conviction for 1st DWI and no jail time, the collateral consequences of having a criminal record can stay with you for life.
The good news is that DWI charges do not always lead to a conviction. A skilled criminal defense attorney can fight to have the charges lowered, explore other options—such as deferred adjudication—or even fight to have the case thrown out altogether.
In this post, we’ll outline the penalties, collateral consequences, and typical jail sentences for DWI offenses in Texas.
The Meaning of DWI in Texas
Drunk driving offenses in Texas are called DWI (Driving While Intoxicated). It’s important to note that DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and DWI are not the same in Texas.
In Texas, DUI is reserved for minors (anyone under the age of 21) caught driving with any detectable amount of alcohol in their system—regardless of whether they are drunk or not. However, minors who are caught driving while intoxicated can be charged with DWI as adults.
DWI charges apply to anyone who operates a vehicle in a public place while they are legally intoxicated. You don’t have to be drunk to get charged with DWI—if your driving is impaired due to taking over-the-counter drugs, for example, you can still get arrested and charged.
The definition of “intoxicated” is included in the Texas Penal Code as:
(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 § 49.01
Conversely, your car doesn’t have to be moving for you to be arrested. When you are intoxicated, simply operating the vehicle for the radio or air conditioning—in a public place—may be enough cause for a law enforcement officer to arrest you.
The Consequences of a DWI Sentence for Texas Adults
The consequences of a DWI in Texas rise with each subsequent offense. Additionally, aggravating factors such as a BAC of 0.15 or above, or the death or serious bodily injury of another, can enhance the charges.
Below, we outline the typical consequences, including jail time and fines, for DWIs in Texas.
Jail and Prison Time
Jail time for a DWI can be as little as 3 days and up to 10 years, depending on the severity of the crime. If you are granted probation or deferred adjudication, it’s possible that you won’t be required to spend time in jail.
Typical jail sentences for DWI in Texas are as follows:
- First DWI (Class B Misdemeanor): Up to 180 days
- Second DWI (Class A Misdemeanor): Up to 1 year
- Third DWI (Third-degree Felony): Between 2 and 10 years in prison
Depending on the circumstances of your DWI, you may be required to pay a fine, go to jail, or both. But the legal penalty is not the only DWI-related cost you’ll face if convicted. You may also be ordered to pay restitution and be fined separately by the state. All these expenses, as well as court and administration fees, the cost of any alcohol education classes, and the installation of an ignition interlock device, should be considered when estimating the cost of a possible conviction.
The legal fines for DWI conviction in Texas are as follows:
- First DWI: Up to $2,000
- Second DWI: Up to $4,000
- Third DWI: Up to $10,000
You could also be given a state fine of $3,000, $4,500, or $6,000 upon sentencing.
A conviction for DWI can result in a driver’s license suspension for the following periods:
- First DWI: Up to 1 year
- Second and Third DWI: Up to 2 years
If you are granted probation or deferred adjudication, you may be asked to fit an Ignition Interlock Device in your vehicle as one of your probation conditions. You will be expected to cover the expense for this.
IID is an instrument, like a Breathalyzer, that’s connected to your vehicle. You have to blow into it and register a BAC below .025 before you are able to start the vehicle. All your breath samples are logged and available for viewing by the court. This means that if you try to drink and drive with an IID, the court can use this as evidence to revoke your probation and enforce harsher penalties.
If you are convicted of a DWI in Texas, you may be ordered to complete a DWI education program certified by the Texas Department of License and Regulations and provided by a DPS-approved organization.
- DWI education classes for first-time offenders typically consist of a 12-hour course. These cost around $80–$200.
- DWI education classes for repeat offenders typically consist of a 32-hour course. These cost around $150–$350.
DWI education classes are often ordered as part of probation and deferred adjudication. If ordered, you’ll be expected to cover the expenses.
The Contributing Factors to a Heightened DWI Sentence
The presence of the following factors can result in enhanced DWI charges and harsher penalties:
- A BAC of 0.15 or above: If your Blood Alcohol Content registers 0.08 or above, you are considered intoxicated. However, a BAC of 0.15 or above will result in elevated charges. A first-time DWI, for example, would be enhanced from Class B to Class A misdemeanor.
- Prior DWI or intoxication-related offenses: If you have previously received a conviction or deferred adjudication for a DWI or DWI-related offense (such as Boating While Intoxicated or Public Intoxication), you will face enhanced charges.
- The presence of a child passenger: If you had a child (under 15) in your vehicle at the time of your DWI, you could be charged with a state jail felony.
- Intoxication Assault: If your DWI offense results in serious bodily injury to another person, including pedestrians, passengers of another vehicle, or your passengers, you could face a third-degree felony.
- Intoxication Manslaughter: If your DWI offense results in the death of another person, such as a pedestrian, one of your passengers, or the passenger of another vehicle, you could face a second-degree felony.
Collateral Consequences of DWI
The true cost of a DWI goes beyond jail time and fines. A conviction for Driving While Intoxicated will remain on your record for the rest of your life. It will show up in background checks, and it can create a barrier that stops you from reaching your goals and aspirations. Additionally, any DWI convictions on your record can be used to enhance future charges against you.
- Many employers have a zero-tolerance policy against DWI offenses. A conviction could result in job loss.
- A DWI conviction could mean you are no longer eligible to apply for some professional licenses, including those for nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers, commercial drivers, and others. If you already have a professional license, a conviction could lead to disciplinary action or revocation of your professional license.
- When applying for a loan, a lender will usually run a background check on you. A conviction could negatively impact a lender’s decision, making it difficult to secure a car loan or a mortgage.
- Landlords routinely run background checks on potential tenants. A DWI record can give the impression that you aren’t responsible—even if the DWI was the result of a one-time mistake. Most landlords prefer not to take a risk, and when faced with the option, they will pick a tenant with a clean record.
- A DWI conviction can hurt your career prospects. When applying for new positions, employers will run background checks on you. Most employers will choose a candidate with a clean record over one with a DWI conviction.
The above list describes some ways in which a DWI can negatively impact a person’s life, but it’s not exhaustive. DWI convictions can irreparably damage your reputation among friends, family, colleagues, and your community. A conviction can lead to a lifetime of financial hardship and anxiety.
If you’ve been charged with a DWI, the prospect of this weight hanging over your future can be daunting. That’s why it’s imperative that you fight for the best possible outcome. At Michael & Associates, we will fight to get your DWI case dismissed. If dismissal is not an option, we will work toward the best possible outcome.
Typical DWI Sentence for Minors
Minors (aged 17 to 20) caught Driving While Intoxicated can get charged as adults and face exactly the same penalties and jail sentences.
- 1st DWI (Class B Misdemeanor): Up to 180 days in jail, a fine of up to $2,000, or both.
- 2nd DWI (Class A Misdemeanor): Up to 1 year in jail, a fine of up to $4,000, or both.
- 3rd DWI (Third-degree Felony): Between 2 and 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
The Consequences of DWI with a Minor in the Vehicle
If there is a child passenger (under 15) in your vehicle at the time of your DWI, you can get charged with child endangerment—a state jail felony. In addition to your DWI sentencing, you can receive the following penalties:
- A fine of up to $10,000
- Up to 2 years in jail
- Additional driver’s license suspension for 180 days
How Long Does DWI Stay on the Record in Texas?
DWI convictions remain on your record forever. You cannot have a DWI conviction expunged.
DWI charges which do not lead to a conviction could be expunged under some circumstances—for example if the case is dismissed in court.
If this is your first DWI, a criminal defense lawyer may be able to apply for you to be offered deferred adjudication. However, you would be required to plead guilty or no contest, thereby waiving your right to a jury trial.
When deferred adjudication is granted, the judge withholds the conviction pending your successful completion of community supervision.
Providing you successfully complete community supervision, the DWI charge is dismissed, and you may—at a later date—have the opportunity to petition for an order of nondisclosure, which will seal your record from public view.
The Best Strategies for Facing a Typical DWI Conviction in Texas
If you are facing DWI charges in Texas, the best thing you can do is seek legal counsel immediately. Find a DWI lawyer you can trust, then have an open and honest discussion about your circumstances.
With help from an experienced DWI attorney, it may be possible to get your DWI charges dismissed altogether. If that’s not an option for you, there could still be other ways to have your charges or penalties reduced.
Getting arrested and charged with a DWI is downright frightening, but you don’t have to go through it alone! Here at Michael & Associates, we offer a free case review because we understand how important it is to find the right lawyer. Book your free case review online now.
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.