Are DWI Charges the Same for Adults and Minors?
DWI Charges In Texas
It is no secret that Texas has enacted some of the strictest drunk driving laws among all US states, which are accompanied by a robust system of penalties and administrative sanctions. Even for a first-time arrest, a violation of laws on driving while intoxicated (DWI) could lead to at least three days in jail and up to six months’ incarceration and extensive fines. Plus, there are implications for your driving privileges, including a driver’s license suspension ranging from 90 days to 12 months.
However, these penalties apply to adults who are convicted for DWI; their crime was getting behind the wheel of a car. The situation is quite different for minors under age 21 who are not allowed legally to consume alcohol, since Texas has a specific law for minors and drunk driving. Law enforcement cracks down on offenders and prosecutors aggressively pursue charges in light of statistics reported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- High school teens drink and drive approximately 2.4 million times a month.
- Every year, almost 1 million individuals aged 15 to 19 operate a vehicle while intoxicated.
- Of the high school teenagers who report drinking and driving, 85 percent state that they binge drink by consuming five or more beverages within a matter of hours.
- Around 20 percent of teen drivers involved in deadly vehicle crashes had some alcohol in their blood. Most – 81 percent – had blood alcohol concentration levels in excess of the legal limit of .08 percent.
If you are underage and facing drunk driving charges, or you are the parent of a child in a similar situation, it is important to retain a DWI lawyer in Galveston County right away. A drunk driving case can have a long-lasting impact on teens, but there may be strategies to obtain a favorable outcome. In addition, it is imperative that you understand how Texas laws apply to younger motorists since DWI charges are NOT the same for adults and minors.
Comparing Texas DWI and DUI Laws
To best understand how age impacts drunk driving charges, you should become familiar with some key terminology, definitions, and special considerations.
Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) – Texas Penal Code 49.04
Any motorist could be arrested for DWI if he or she meets one of two criteria under Texas law:
- Operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in excess of .08 percent as measured by a chemical test, and/or
- Driving while not having use of normal mental or physical capabilities due to consumption of alcohol or controlled substances or a combination of both, which could mean the motorist has a BAC under the legal limit.
Driving Under the Influence (DUI) – Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code 106.041
Contrary to the familiar usage in other states that refers to any charge of drunk driving, Texas DUI laws only apply to individuals under the age of 21. For someone under the legal drinking age, driving under the influence of ANY detectable amount of alcohol is illegal. Someone could test for as low as .02 percent BAC and still be arrested for DUI. Because many young people in Texas enjoy other motorized vehicles, such as watercraft, it is important to keep in mind that these laws could also lead to an arrest.
Minors Could Face DUI and DWI Charges
Despite the distinctions between the two, it is possible for a person under the age of 21 to be arrested for drunk driving under Texas Code provisions. On the one hand, DWI is a crime for adults; at the same time, the laws seek to punish underage drunk driving for DUI.
DWI Penalties for Adults and Minors
The first-time penalties outlined above are serious, and a judge could impose them for drivers of any age. The punishment range can increase if an individual has prior convictions for DWI.
- A second conviction is a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by a mandatory jail sentence of 30 days and up to one year. You could also face a driver’s license suspension from 180 days to two years, along with a $4,000 fine.
- For a third or subsequent arrest on DWI charges, the crime is a Third Degree Felony. If convicted, the sentence includes a mandatory minimum of two years in prison. A judge could order up to a maximum of 10 years.
Keep in mind that the penalties are more severe for a first-time offender with a BAC in excess of .15 percent. Also, note that Texas does not apply a lookback period for subsequent drunk driving offenses. Meaning any previous conviction, no matter how old, will be considered a prior DWI offense.
DUI Punishments for Minors
The individual’s age and driving history are important factors when assessing penalties for DUI. For a first offense, a person under 17 years old is facing Class C Misdemeanor charges. The punishment could include 20 to 40 hours of community service and a maximum fine of $500. A first-time DUI for a person aged 17 to 20 is a Class B Misdemeanor. If convicted, the law requires a minimum of 72 hours in jail, though a possible sentence can be up to 180 days.
There are collateral consequences for minors convicted of DWI and/or DUI as well. The matter will turn up on a background check, and a young person may be required to disclose criminal activity on applications. This turns into challenges with obtaining student aid for college or other educational opportunities, as well as difficulties finding employment. A conviction can also disqualify someone for a professional license, leading to additional job-related implications. Many other collateral consequences impact minors long after being convicted for drunk driving.
How to Fight DWI and DUI Charges
The first consideration in defending any criminal case is knowing the prosecutor’s burden. The government must prove every element of a DWI and DUI case beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction, and anything less must lead to an acquittal. Therefore, the initial line of attack is dismantling the prosecution’s case. For a drunk driving matter, it is possible to develop a defense strategy based upon certain scenarios:
- Police cannot pull you over unless they have a reasonable suspicion of a violation of the law.
- Officers are not allowed to arrest you unless they have probable cause that you were that an intoxication offense has been committed, regardless of age.
- A portable breathalyzer test, taken at the site of the roadside stop, is not admissible in court or trial as evidence of intoxication.
- Police must inform you of your rights to refuse field sobriety tests or breath or blood samples under Texas implied consent laws, though they are still allowed to obtain a chemical sample under certain circumstances.
- If you are in custody for a breathalyzer test, the device must comply with strict rules on calibration and inspections. The law enforcement officer administering the test must also comply with procedural and licensing regulations.
In addition, there are other strategies for resolving DWI and DUI charges through agreement. This approach is often successful when the prosecutor’s case is weak because of a lack of evidence or deficiencies in BAC testing. One option may be working out a plea bargain through a deferred adjudication. Eligible individuals can choose to plead guilty in exchange for a type of probation termed deferred adjudication.
When you complete all terms imposed by the court, you can have the charges dismissed. There may be requirements such as an ignition interlock device (IID), completing a substance abuse assessment, and finishing treatment programs. The matter will not appear as a DWI or DUI conviction, but it WILL be considered for subsequent drunk driving offenses.
Get Help from a DWI Attorney in Galveston County
Anyone facing drunk driving charges can benefit from retaining experienced legal help, particularly younger motorists who might encounter challenges with a prior criminal conviction. Intoxicated driving is one of the most technical and complex areas of criminal law in Texas and you are at a disadvantage if you try to handle the matter on your own, so rely on an underage drunk driving lawyer to assist.
Your attorney can take care of essential legal tasks throughout the process, starting with advice and counsel on the charges. Understanding the differences between DUI and DWI can be complicated, and figuring out the implications requires in-depth knowledge of the laws. A lawyer can also guide you through the legal process by:
- Assessing and gathering evidence to support defense strategies
- Engaging in motion practice to suppress evidence that does not meet the standards required for reasonable suspicion and probable cause
- Advising you during pretrial proceedings for criminal drunk driving charges
- Helping with administrative proceedings that affect your driver’s license
- Defending your interests in a criminal DWI or DUI case
When deferred adjudication is an option, it is still beneficial to gain insight from an experienced legal professional. There are terms and conditions to assess, and you must first understand the qualifying criteria.
Trust a DWI Lawyer in Galveston County for Legal Help
It is helpful to review this summary of Texas DUI and DWI laws that apply to underage motorists, but the information should also convince you that retaining skilled legal representation is crucial.
For more information about defense strategies, deferred adjudication, and related concepts, please contact Galveston County DWI Lawyer Mark Diaz. You can set up a free consultation with a drunk driving attorney in Galveston by calling (409) 515-6170. We advocate on behalf of clients in Galveston County and Greater Houston, and we look forward to working with you.