Under Texas law, driving while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol is a criminal offense that can have extremely serious legal consequences. Authorities are actively looking for people who violate the law, and many drivers are surprised to learn that they can be accused of driving while intoxicated (DWI) even after only a few drinks. In some cases, drivers may be arrested for a DWI even if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is below the limit that the law defines as “intoxicated.”
In Texas, the general drunk driving law is found in Texas Penal Code Title 10, Chapter 49. The statute defines the term “intoxicated” in two distinct ways:
For certain classes of drivers, the BAC limit is lower. Drivers who are under 21 years of age are prohibited from driving with any detectable amount of alcohol in their system, and commercial drivers are subject to a .04 percent legal limit.
Penalties imposed after a DUI depend on a variety of factors, the most relevant are the number of previous offenses as well as your blood alcohol content (BAC) at the time of your arrest. The following is a list of some of the penalties that may be imposed after being accused of driving while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol:
Texas law defines anyone under the age of 21 as a “minor.” Minors are prohibited from driving a motor vehicle with any detectable amount of alcohol in their systems. For a first offense, minors who are caught driving after drinking any alcohol face fines, probation, loss of their right to drive, mandatory enrollment in an alcohol education class, community service, and the installation of an ignition interlock device. These penalties increase significantly with each subsequent offense, and in many cases can include jail time.
The State of Texas legislature has defined certain crimes involving DWI that involve injury or the risk of injury to others. These include:
These offenses are prosecuted under different code sections than DWI law and expose offenders to much more serious consequences. Additionally, there are other “enhanced offenses” defined by the law, including injuring a firefighter, peace officer, or other emergency medical personnel, or causing a traumatic brain injury that results in a persistent vegetative state.
|Conviction||Offense Level||Maximum Fine||Jail Range||License Suspension|
|1st DWI and BWI||Class B Misdemeanor||Up to $2,000||72 hours to 180 days||90 to 365 days|
|2nd DWI and BWI||Class A Misdemeanor||Up to $4,000||30 to 365 days||180 days to 2 years|
|3rd DWI and BWI||3rd Degree Felony||Up to $10,000||2 to 10 years in Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ)||180 days to 2 years|
|Intoxication Assault||3rd Degree Felony||Up to $10,000||2 to 10 years in Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ)||180 days to 2 years|
|Intoxication Manslaughter||2nd Degree Felony||Up to $10,000||2 to 10 years in Texas Department of Corrections (TDCJ)||180 days to 2 years|
|DWI with child passenger||State Jail Felony||Max Fine $10,000||6mos. To 2 years in a State Jail Facility||90 days to 2 years|
|1st DWI with Open Container Enhancement||Class B Misdemeanor||Up to $2,000||6 days to 180 days||90 days to 365 days|
Probation is an agreement between you and the judge in which the judge agrees not to impose a jail sentence in exchange for you agreeing to do (or not do) certain things during a set amount of time. This set amount of time is known as the probationary period. For a first offense, the probationary period can extend up to two years.
In most cases, if you have no prior convictions, then a judge will suspend your entire jail sentence and place you on probation for a minimum of six months. Typically, a probation period is one year in length. During probation, you are required to do the following:
In addition to the things that you must do while on probably, there are also some things that you must not do. These include:
If you receive a second DWI conviction, then your chances of having your entire jail sentence reduced in place of probation are much more minimal. Instead, there is a minimum 72-hour continuous confinement requires for a second DWI conviction. The judge may, however, suspect the rest of yours sentence and place on you on probation. For a third DWI conviction, which is considered to be a felony conviction, you must spend 10 days in county jail. After that, you may receive a probation sentence in lieu of a jail sentence that requires you to perform community service and participate in a substance abuse program.
Above intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault are briefly discussed. If you obtain probation for intoxication manslaughter, then you will be required to serve a community service sentence ranging between 240 and 800 hours; serve a minimum jail sentence of 120 days; and participate in substance abuse/alcohol programs whether they be in-patient or outpatient. The penalties are similar with an intoxication assault probation—you will have to serve community service, serve in county jail for a minimum of 30 days, and participate in a substance abuse program.
Anyone who operates a motor vehicle in Texas is subject to the “implied consent” rule, which holds that by obtaining a driver’s license and operating a motor vehicle, you have consented to a chemical test if a law enforcement officer suspects that you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Because of this rule, you can lose your license if you refuse such testing. This suspension is completely separate from the criminal part of a DWI case, and can result in a license suspension of 90 days to two years.
Drivers will not lose their license immediately after a refusal takes place – after a refusal, you have 15 days to request an administrative hearing regarding your suspension. If you do not request a hearing, an automatic suspension begins 40 days after your refusal. The administrative hearings are handled by the State Office of Administrative Hearings, and can be requested online.
Individuals who are first-time offenders and are put on probation will be required to attend a DWI education program administered by the Texas Department of State Health Services. The program lasts 12 hours and educates individuals on how drugs and alcohol relate to a person’s ability to drive, their own patterns of drinking, drug use, and driving, and how they can avoid engaging in similar conduct in the future.
The course must be completed within 180 days of being placed on probation, or an offender’s license will be revoked.
As its name indicates, the Alcohol Education Program for Minors is designed for minors who have been convicted of a DWI or DUI. The program teaches its participants about the ways that alcohol can affect driving, social issues related to drug and alcohol use, and the kinds of behaviors that can lead to abuse and addiction.
In some cases, participation in the program will be substituted by court-ordered community service. Failure to complete either within 90 days can lead to a six-month license suspension.
In Texas, a boating while intoxicated (BWI) charge carries the same penalties and license suspension consequences as does a DWI. Boating While Intoxicated is defined as having a BAC over .08 percent or loss of physical or mental faculties. Your license will likewise be confiscated, and the state may attempt to suspend your Texas driver’s license.
In Texas, Flying While Intoxicated (FWI) has the same potential penalties as in a DWI case. A person charged with a FWI had lost the normal use of his/her physical or mental faculties or had a BAC of .08 percent or above while operating an aircraft.
Assembling or operating an amusement park ride while intoxicated is illegal. Assembling or operating an amusement park ride while the use of your physical or mental faculties was impaired or while your blood alcohol content was above .08 percent at the time of operation.
Texas law allows people whose drivers’ licenses are suspended to apply for an occupational license, also referred to as a restricted license or a hardship license. These licenses allow people whose drivers’ licenses are suspended to drive to and from certain places during the suspension, such as school, work, or for the performance of household duties. In order to obtain an occupational license, you must:
While the steps to reinstate your driver’s license are usually very clear, the process often takes a considerable amount of time and effort. These steps include the following:
Getting a DWI is Texas is an expensive event. In addition to any court-ordered fines and insurance increases that you face, there are additional fees to reinstate your license. For example, you must pay a $125 fee after an Administrative License Revocation in order to reinstate your license. In addition, under the Texas Driver Responsibility Program, you have to pay surcharges associated with the maintenance of your license, which can be as much as $2,000 per year for three years.
Texas DWI 12-Hour Education Program (1st Offense)