Ways a DWI Conviction Can Impact Your Life
By: Mark Diaz
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Ways a DWI Conviction Can Impact Your Life
Drunk driving is the most common criminal offense in Texas and throughout the US, so many people who would otherwise never think of committing a crime find themselves facing DWI charges. Under the Texas statute on Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), there are two scenarios that could lead to an arrest:
- You were intoxicated in the sense that you did not have the normal use of your mental or physical capabilities because of drinking alcohol.
- The results of a breathalyzer or other chemical test revealed that you had a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent or more, which is the legal limit in Texas.
However, regardless of how you were charged, the implications of being convicted are serious. These cases encompass two proceedings: One affects your rights, while the other carries consequences for your driving privileges. Plus, there are other ramifications for your future even after you serve your criminal sentence and get your license back. Working with Chambers County DUI attorneys enables many defendants to obtain a favorable outcome, so it is wise to consult with a lawyer right away. You should also be aware of the many ways a DWI conviction can impact your life.
Criminal Punishment for a DWI Conviction
As mentioned above, you could be arrested for drunk driving if you were operating a motor vehicle in a public place while having a BAC above the legal limit. You may also be charged if you show signs of impairment and lack of control over your faculties, such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, clumsy gestures, and other factors. The basic crime of drunk driving, for a first-time offense, is a Class B Misdemeanor. If convicted, the DWI statute provides that the minimum period of incarceration is 72 hours. Still, a judge could sentence you to a maximum of 180 days in jail, a fine of $2,000, or both.
For a second drunk driving offense, the crime is a Class A Misdemeanor. If convicted, there is still a mandatory minimum of three days’ incarceration. The maximum is 12 months in jail, while your fine increases to $6,000. Subsequent offenses lead to harsher penalties, especially when the case involves felony DWI charges.
In addition, keep in mind:
- If you have an open container of alcohol within your immediate possession when arrested for DWI, the offense is still a Class B Misdemeanor. However, the minimum term of incarceration is six days instead of three.
- When the chemical test reveals a BAC of .15 or more, the crime is automatically a Class A Misdemeanor – even for a first-time offense.
- It is a State Jail Felony if you are charged for DWI with a child passenger. If convicted, you face 180 days to 2 years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.
Effects on Your Driver’s License: The second component of a DWI case is administrative in nature, as it impacts your driving privileges and does not involve criminal punishment. For a first drunk driving arrest, your license will be suspended for 90 days to one year. A second conviction within five years after a prior arrest means a driver’s license suspension for 180 days to 2 years. Your license will be suspended for the same amount of time for a third DWI, but the lookback period is extended to 10 years.
Note that there are fees to get your driver’s license reinstated in Texas after a drunk driving conviction. However, the controversial program which charged a person additional surcharges after the reinstatement of driving privileges was recently repealed. The Driver Responsibility Program (DRP) used to levy an additional fee for motorists to retain their license after a DWI conviction, but it ended in September 2019.
Ignition Interlock Devices (IID)
This technology is designed to prevent a vehicle’s motor from starting if it detects alcohol after the motorist breathes into a handheld unit. The IID will also request additional samples after the initial startup, i.e., “rolling retests.” The system issues an alert to the driver, who has a certain amount of time to pull over and breathe into the IID, or the engine will slow and eventually stop.
The IID is not required for every drunk driving case, but it does have advantages. You may qualify to drive despite a license suspension, as long as the vehicle has an IID installed. This rule only applies to first-time offenders who did not have an excessive BAC in excess of .15 percent. Without an IID, the only way to drive during the suspension period would be to get an occupational license that allows driving for limited purposes.
There are costs associated with the IID, however, so this option does impact your life. You are responsible for all charges, including installation and monthly maintenance fees. When required to have an IID for several months, you could be paying hundreds of dollars for the services.
Collateral Consequences of a DWI Conviction
Aside from the criminal sanctions and administrative penalties, some legal restrictions will continue to affect your life after you serve jail time, pay fines, and get your license reinstated. These are the “collateral” consequences that follow you, either for several years or the rest of your life. Keep in mind that a DWI conviction will remain on your permanent criminal record. The case will show up whenever you are subjected to a background check, and you will be required to disclose your criminal history in some situations. This could create challenges for employers.
Additional collateral consequences include:
- If you hold a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), you will also face a suspension by the Texas Department of Public Safety. However, truck operators are held to a higher standard compared to other motorists. You could be arrested for DWI for having a BAC of .04, whether in your own car or a commercial vehicle. CDL holders could be unable to work for the suspension period, but many employers will not hire someone with a drunk driving conviction in the past.
- You could lose other professional or business licenses, affecting your ability to earn a living.
- When convicted of a felony DWI, you cannot vote until your rights are restored, and cannot run for a public offense. There are also implications for your Second Amendment rights.
Defenses in Drunk Driving Cases
The criminal penalties, effects on your driver’s license, and collateral consequences of a DWI conviction are sobering. As such, it is critical to take advantage of all defense opportunities. For instance:
- Police must have a reasonable suspicion that you were driving while intoxicated to pull you over, and they must show probable cause of a criminal offense to make an arrest. Failure to meet these standards could be grounds for dismissal.
- The prosecutor is required to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to convict you of DUI. Weak evidence or inconsistencies in the proof may be the reason for the court to drop the charges before trial, but these deficiencies could also lead a jury to acquit you.
- Despite the impression that science is infallible, breathalyzer machines can be faulty. If they are not properly maintained, calibrated, and operated by a person who has proper credentials, the test results could be inadmissible as evidence.
Other Strategies for Resolving DWI Charges
Even if you do not have a solid defense for getting DWI charges dropped, Chambers County DUI attorneys have other strategies that benefit your interests. One option is the Texas DUI deferred adjudication program. If you qualify, you will plead guilty to drunk driving charges, but the court holds off on entering your plea. By meeting all terms set by the judge, the charges could be dropped. Violations of the court’s order carry harsh consequences since you already pled guilty and cannot raise defenses.
A similar program is a pretrial diversion, which also leads to dismissal when you complete all conditions over a period of 12 to 18 months. Examples include installation of an IID, random drug testing, reporting to a probation officer, and attending counseling sessions.
For both of these options, the case must involve a first-time drunk driving offense and you cannot have a BAC over .15 percent. You may also need to meet other criteria depending on the specifics. Note that there is no entitlement to pretrial diversion or deferred adjudication for resolving DWI charges. The prosecutor must agree to the arrangement, and the judge must approve your participation in the program.
You Can Trust Our Chambers County DWI Attorneys to Defend the Charges
This information may be overwhelming if you did not realize the wide-ranging ways a DWI conviction can impact your life. However, you can also see that there are strategies to minimize the consequences. The key to maximizing defenses and getting a positive result is retaining a skilled lawyer.
For more information on DWI charges, please contact criminal defense attorney Mark Diaz. You can call 409-515-6170 to schedule a complimentary consultation with a Texas drunk driving defense lawyer. Our firm serves clients in Greater Houston and throughout Galveston County in all types of criminal cases, so we are happy to help.