It is against the law in every state to drive while impaired by either alcohol or drugs. While most states use the term driving under the influence or DUI, Texas differentiates between DUI and DWI. DWI, or driving while intoxicated, is the more common charge in the state.
If you are facing a DWI charge, it is a serious matter, and seeking the skilled legal guidance of an experienced Austin DWI attorney is always in your best interest.
How Is DWI Defined in Texas?
In the State of Texas, DWI refers to driving while intoxicated, which means driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent or higher. You can also face a DWI charge if your driving is determined to be impaired by alcohol – even if you are under the legal limit.
For example, if the arresting officer finds that your alcohol consumption negatively affected your ability to drive in accordance with the law, it can lead to a DWI charge.
How Is DUI Defined in Texas?
In the State of Texas, the charge of DUI is reserved for those who are under the legal drinking age of 21. The charge relates to driving while under the influence of any amount of alcohol. The penalties for a DUI conviction are generally lesser than for a DWI conviction and tend to include the following consequences:
Participation in an alcohol awareness class
When an underage drinker is seriously impaired, he or she can face a DWI charge.
It is important to note that the terms DUI and DWI are often used interchangeably in Texas. There is, however, a legal distinction. An Austin DUI attorney can help you face your charges, whether you’re facing a DUI or a DWI.
What Happens If I Am Pulled Over?
In order to pull you over in the State of Texas – or anywhere else in the United States – the police need to have a reasonable suspicion that you were committing a crime, such as driving while intoxicated. This requirement is a fairly low bar, but the police can’t pull you over simply because they feel like it or because they have a hunch about you.
Once you have been pulled over, you will need to show your license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration – the same way you would for any other kind of traffic stop. At this point, you may be asked to take a breathalyzer test, and if you blow over the legal limit, all the following will likely happen:
You will be arrested.
Your vehicle will be temporarily impounded.
Your license will be suspended.
A court date will be scheduled.
Am I Required to Take a Breath Test?
Texas has what is known as an implied consent law, which means that when you get behind the wheel of a vehicle, you imply your consent to be tested for blood alcohol. While you can refuse a breathalyzer or blood test, doing so can lead to harsher legal consequences and comes with an automatic driver’s license suspension of 180 days.
What Are the Consequences of a First DWI?
If you are convicted of first-time DWI charges, you can face jail time, but you are likely to avoid it. However, the unique circumstances of your case will determine its outcome. The basic fines and penalties for a first DWI in Texas include the following consequences:
Up to $2,000 in penalties
Up to 180 days in jail
Court-ordered rehab in lieu of jail time
A first-time DWI is usually charged as a class B misdemeanor, but there are complicating circumstances that can enhance the charge and attendant penalties. If you are facing a first-time DWI charge, contact an Austin criminal defense attorney to better understand your charge and what it will mean for your case.
A BAC of .15 or Higher
If your blood alcohol concentration tops .15 percent, the charge is elevated to a Class A misdemeanor, and a conviction carries up to $4,000 in fines and a jail sentence of up to a year. You may also be required to have an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle. This device is designed to prevent your car from starting if you blow over a set limit – usually .02 percent.
An Underage Passenger
If you are charged with DWI and you have a passenger who is under the age of 15 in your vehicle at the time, it is a state jail felony that carries up to $10,000 in fines and jail time of 180 days to 2 years.
Cause Serious Injury
If your impairment causes you to injure someone else seriously, you can face a third-degree felony charge, and a conviction can mean 2 to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.
Cause a Fatality
If your impairment causes someone else to lose their life, the manslaughter charge is a second-degree felony, and a conviction carries a prison sentence of 2 to 20 years along with fines of up to $10,000.
What If It Is a Second Offense?
If you already have a DWI on your record, a second offense can be charged as a Class A misdemeanor. Penalties include up to $4,000 in fines and up to a year in jail or up to two years of probation. Probation requirements include a mandatory jail sentence of 4 to 60 days.
Will I Automatically Lose My Driver's License?
Everyone who is charged with DWI in Texas is subject to an automatic Administrative License Revocation (ALR) – or suspension – of his or her driver’s license. However, your Texas driver's license will not be suspended immediately.
Instead, your suspension will begin about 40 days after your arrest, and an ALR hearing, which must be requested within 15 days of arrest, is your only opportunity to contest the matter.
A range of factors can affect how long your driver’s license suspension will last, but the basics include the following guidelines:
For a first offense, drivers face three months to a year of suspension.
A prior conviction on one’s record can increase the length of the suspension to from six months to two years.
Circumstances like having a child passenger, having an exceptionally high BAC, having an open container, or causing injury or death can all increase the suspension period faced.
License suspension is a serious matter that can drastically affect your life. If you are facing a license suspension, contact an Austin criminal defense attorney to protect your rights.
Can I Be Charged with DWI If I Wasn’t Driving at the Time?
You can face a DWI charge even if you were not driving your car at the time of arrest. A charge of DWI can apply if you have physical control over the vehicle in question, and the vehicle needn’t be in motion. As such, having physical control over your vehicle and being capable of operating it – when you are seated behind the wheel with the keys in the ignition, for example – is included in the state’s definition of DWI.
For more information on DWI charges without driving, read “Can You Be Charged with a DWI for Sleeping in Your Parked Car?”
How Accurate Are Breath Tests?
The New York Times reports that the breath tests used in police stations across the country are unreliable at best. Although these tests are touted for their precision, skewed results are far from uncommon.
In a recent year, courts in both Massachusetts and New Jersey threw out evidence generated by more than 30,000 breath tests, and the primary causes were inadequate governmental oversight and human error. The problem is not unique to these states.
Breath tests are continually placed under scrutiny for many of the following reasons:
Alcohol breath test machines are highly sensitive scientific devices, but if they aren’t calibrated correctly, they can yield highly inaccurate results.
Police departments are responsible for maintaining alcohol breath test machines, but expertise and standards vary considerably across jurisdictions.
Even outdated chemicals can warp testing results.
There can also be programming errors in the software installed in alcohol breath test machines.
Safeguards intended to preserve these machines' accuracy are sometimes disabled.
To put a very fine point on the matter, a Pennsylvania judge relayed that whether any of the state’s breath tests could stand up to serious legal scrutiny was up for debate.
What Are Texas’s Open Container Laws?
It is against the law to have an open container of alcohol in one’s immediate possession while driving in the State of Texas. If the seal is broken, the container is considered open, even if the bottle is completely full.
The open container charge is a Class C misdemeanor, and a conviction comes with fines of up to $500 – regardless of whether you’re above the legal limit. If you’re charged with DWI and open container simultaneously, the charge is a Class B misdemeanor, and you can expect a minimum jail sentence of six days – in addition to fines of up to $2,000.
Is There Any Point in Fighting a DWI Charge?
There is every reason to fight a DWI charge. Far too many people believe that simply being charged with DWI means they’re guilty as charged, but this is not the case. The state must prove your guilt in the matter beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a very high legal bar. Even if you can’t get the charge dropped completely, there may be other options:
Having the charge you face decreased
Having the penalties you face minimized
Keeping you out of jail
Minimizing the amount of time your license is suspended – or avoiding suspension altogether
Prevailing with an acquittal
Having a dedicated Austin DWI attorney in your corner can make a serious difference in the outcome of your case.
What Role Will My DUI Lawyer Play?
The sooner you have a seasoned Austin DUI lawyer on your side, the better positioned you’ll be to fight the DUI charge you face effectively. Your trusted attorney will ably take on all the following tasks in protection of your rights and your case’s best possible outcome:
Gathering all the evidence in your case, including all the evidence that the police and the prosecution have access to
Establishing the level of accuracy related to your alcohol breath test
Poking holes in the state’s case
Knowledgeably negotiating with the prosecution for an advantageous resolution
Ensuring that you understand each step in the process and that you avoid the common mistakes that can harm your case
Fiercely advocating on behalf of your rights and best interests
Are Blood Tests More Accurate than Breath Tests?
Blood tests are generally considered more accurate and more reliable than breath tests, which come with a wide range of concerns. However, blood tests are not without issues of their own. When test samples are not stored correctly, the results can be skewed. Further, the more hands these tests pass through, the more risk there is of contamination or mishandling along the way.
Does Refusing a Breathalyzer Test Mean an Automatic License Suspension?
Refusing a breathalyzer trips the automatic driver’s license suspension process, but suspension isn’t a certainty. You have the right to an ALR hearing to fight the suspension, but your request must be filed within 15 days of arrest. An Austin criminal defense attorney can help you file and will defend your best interests.
What If I’m Not Convicted – Will My Arrest Remain on My Record?
Every arrest leads to an arrest record, and arrest records don’t disappear with a finding of not guilty. While a DWI conviction can’t be expunged – or erased from your record – the following situations can:
A DWI arrest for which you were acquitted
A DWI conviction for which you were pardoned
A DWI arrest that did not lead to charges
A DWI conviction for which the charge was acquitted by the court of criminal appeals
Seek the Help You Need from an Experienced Austin DUI Lawyer Today
A DWI conviction can lead to serious consequences that reverberate throughout your future, and bringing your strongest defense is highly recommended. Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard is an accomplished Austin DWI attorney who dedicates his decades-long practice to zealously advocating for advantageous case resolutions that support his valued clients’ legal rights.
We are on your side and here to help, so please don’t delay reaching out to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 to schedule your FREE consultation and learn more about what we can do for you today.