What You Need to Know About Texas Drunk Driving Laws
By: Mark Diaz
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What You Need to Know About Texas Drunk Driving Laws
Whether you were recently arrested for DWI, DUI or want to avoid charges, it is always helpful to know as much as you can about Texas drunk driving laws. You can be sure that law enforcement does, and they use their knowledge to crack down on offenders.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) arrests almost 72,000 people every year for violating the statute on Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), including both juveniles and adults. Depending on the circumstances, you could face jail time and fines if convicted. Plus, there are implications for your driving privileges. Not only will your driver’s license be suspended, but you get hit in the wallet through additional fees even after reinstatement.
You may already be familiar with these penalties for a drunk driving conviction in Texas, but there are many other details and legal concepts that apply to these cases. When it comes to DWI/DUI cases, what you do not know can most definitely hurt you. Fortunately, Harris County DWI lawyers do have meticulous knowledge of defenses and experience fighting the charges. You should make it a priority to retain legal representation, but here is what you need to know about Texas drunk driving laws.
Two Ways to Get a DWI
Many motorists are surprised to learn that there is more than one way to be charged with drunk driving, though the first is familiar. Police could arrest you for DWI if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeds .08 percent as measured by a chemical test. A breathalyzer is the most common test, but officers can also subject you to a blood or urine test for purposes of obtaining your BAC.
The second way a person could be arrested for DWI is if he or she demonstrates signs of intoxication. The Texas statute defines “intoxicated” as not having the normal use or your mental or physical capabilities because of consuming alcohol or drugs. This is a subjective standard that relies entirely upon officers’ impressions and observations. For example, police may arrest you for drunk driving if you:
- Slur your speech
- Perform poorly on field sobriety tests
- Have bloodshot eyes
- Exhale the odor of alcohol
- Show poor muscle coordination or clumsiness
- Exhibit any other quality that indicates impairment
DUI is Different than a DWI
Often used interchangeably, DWI & DUI are actually entirely different criminal offenses. DUI, or Driving Under the Influence, is an offense under the Transportation Code and applies to individuals under the age of 21. The Transportation Code Statute states that an offense has been committed if an individual under the age of 21 has ANY detectable amount of alcohol in their system.
Therefore, the normal definitions of “intoxication” do not apply in these circumstances, all the State must prove is that there was any detectable amount of alcohol. However, an individual under the age of 21 may still be prosecuted for a DWI if intoxication is at issue.
Drunk Driving Encompasses Two Proceedings
The theme of “twos” carries over after an arrest for DWI since the charges trigger two separate, yet interrelated cases.
- Administrative Proceedings: Texas DWI laws affect your driver’s license, encompassing a process managed by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). This administrative agency is required to suspend your driving privileges upon an arrest for drunk driving. You have 20 days to request a hearing to contest the suspension, but your license will automatically be suspended 40 days after being charged.
- Criminal Case: Obviously, drunk driving is also a criminal offense. For a first-time arrest in the absence of other factors described below, you will face charges for a Class B Misdemeanor. A conviction means mandatory jail time of 72 hours, though a judge could order the maximum of 180 days’ incarceration. A second arrest for DWI is a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by a mandatory minimum of 30 days to a maximum of one year in jail.
Texas Implied Consent Laws
Like other US states, Texas has an implied consent statute that affects drunk driving cases. By law, motorists implicitly consent to have their BAC measured by a chemical test as a condition of having driving privileges in the state. The consequences of refusal are severe, starting with an automatic 180-day driver’s license suspension. A second refusal or related encounter with law enforcement could lead to a two-year suspension of your driving privileges. However, keep in mind the following details:
- The implied consent law only applies after you are under arrest and requested to submit to testing in a controlled environment at the police station. You do not violate the law by refusing to take a portable breathalyzer during the stop.
- You can still be convicted for drunk driving if you refuse to blow. Recall that there are two ways police can arrest you, so your BAC is not necessary for a conviction.
- Police are required to explain the consequences of a refusal to test.
Enhancements for DWI Charges
In addition to the basic violation of Texas DWI laws, there are situations where the drunk driving charges and/or penalties are elevated. In other words, you could be charged with a more serious misdemeanor or even a felony in the presence of certain factors; in other cases, the punishment will be more severe. These enhancements may apply to your case even for a first-time offense. Examples include:
Open Container Drunk Driving: If the prosecution proves that you had an open vessel containing alcohol in your immediate possession, the crime is still a Class B Misdemeanor. However, the mandatory minimum jail time is 6 days instead of 72 hours.
Excessive BAC: When a breathalyzer or other chemical test reveals a BAC in excess of .15 percent – almost twice the legal limit – the offense is a Class A Misdemeanor.
DWI with Child Passenger in Texas: A person who is arrested for drunk driving with a child under 15 years old will face state jail felony charges. For a conviction, you could be sentenced to 180 days to 2 years’ incarceration, along with a $10,000 fine.
Drunk Driving Accidents: If you are involved in a collision while under the influence of alcohol, DWI charges become extremely serious.
Intoxication Assault: If you cause a crash that leads to serious bodily injury to a victim, you could face third-degree felony charges. A conviction is punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison, plus a $10,000 fine.
Intoxication Manslaughter: When drunk driving leads to a fatal accident, you may be arrested for a second-degree felony. The mandatory minimum remains 2 years’ incarceration, but a judge could order a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Defenses Under Texas Drunk Driving Laws
The charges and penalties for any DWI case are serious, so it is reassuring to know that you have options to fight the allegations. Plus, there may be other strategies that enable a satisfactory result. A few points should be informative:
- Police must have a reasonable suspicion that you were drunk driving before they can pull you over, and they need probable cause to support a DWI arrest. Failure to meet these standards could be grounds to dismiss the charges.
- A prosecutor is required to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for a Texas DWI case. If the evidence is weak or tossed prior to trial, the charges could be dropped. Alternatively, the jury might decide that the prosecution has not met its burden, so you could be acquitted at trial.
- Any evidence obtained pursuant to an unlawful search or seizure is inadmissible. This could lead the result of a chemical test to be tossed, severely weakening the government’s case.
There is an assumption that test results are 100 percent accurate and reliable, but it is possible to beat the breathalyzer. These devices must be properly maintained, repaired, and calibrated according to a strict schedule. The operator must also have the necessary credential to operate the machine. Failures in any of these areas could mean the results are inadmissible as evidence against you.
Legal Help with DWI / DUI Cases
Harris County DWI lawyers have extensive experience and in-depth knowledge of the laws, enabling you to take advantage of the above defenses and many others. There is nothing automatic about dropping the charges and dismissing the case: You must raise these issues before the judge. Legal assistance is also critical with respect to other strategies for resolving DUI charges, so count on your attorney to:
- Conduct an investigation and gather evidence to support defenses.
- File a motion to exclude illegally obtained evidence.
- Pursue a motion to dismiss for lack of evidence or other legal insufficiencies.
- Attend all court appearances.
- Represent you in court for criminal DWI / DUI charges and the administrative proceedings before Texas DPS.
Plus, your attorney can assist with other options for resolving a drunk driving case. You may qualify for pretrial diversion or deferred adjudication, programs that are akin to probation. By meeting the requirements established by the judge, you could have the charges dropped, your penalties reduced, or both.
Our Harris County DWI Lawyers Will Pursue All-Defense Options
This overview of Texas drunk driving laws is helpful, but what you really need to know about these cases is that help from a drunk driving defense attorney is critical. You can expect that the prosecutor has significant experience pursuing charges, so level the playing field by working with a skilled DWI lawyer.
To learn more about how the laws apply to your unique situation, please contact criminal defense attorney Mark Diaz. Our firm serves clients in Greater Houston and throughout Galveston County, so we are ready to advocate on your behalf. You can set up a no-cost consultation with a Texas criminal defense lawyer by calling 409-515-6170.