Enhanced Penalties for DWI Convictions in Texas

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The State of Texas takes DWI charges very seriously. If you are facing a DWI charge, having skilled legal guidance on your side can make a considerable difference in the outcome of your case. If the charge has been enhanced, you’ll face significantly harsher penalties, and the matter will be much more serious.

Texas employs a wide range of enhancements, and having a better understanding of how charge enhancements work can help you avoid them. If you’ve been slapped with a DWI in Texas –¬†whether enhanced or not – it’s time to consult with an experienced Round Rock DWI attorney.

DWI Charges in Texas

DWI stands for driving while intoxicated, and in Texas – like virtually every state – you reach the threshold for intoxication with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent. The police test for BAC with breath and blood tests, and how accurate the testing is can vary depending on factors like the following:

  • How well-maintained the breathalyzer is

  • How the breathalyzer is calibrated

  • The temperature at which the test is conducted

  • How experienced the officer conducting the test is

  • Any health issues like asthma, diabetes, ketosis, or emphysema on the part of the person being tested

  • The chain of custody regarding the blood sample

  • Storage of the blood sample

  • The rigor of the blood-testing equipment, which can be faulty or contaminated

  • The reputation of the testing lab – some have been identified as having systemic problems

While you have the right to refuse a breathalyzer test, doing so automatically triggers a driver’s license suspension. Consulting with an experienced DWI attorney early in the process is your best option.

It’s also important to point out that you can be charged with DWI even if your BAC is below the limit. If the arresting officer determines that your driving was adversely affected by alcohol and that, as a result, it wasn’t safe for you to get behind the wheel, you can face a DWI charge.

Fines and Penalties

A first DWI in Texas is generally charged as a Class B misdemeanor, which carries up to $2,000 in fines, a jail sentence of from 3 to 180 days, and driver’s license suspension of up to a year.

Deferred Adjudication

If you’re facing a DWI charge, deferred adjudication is a possibility under specific circumstances that include the following:

  • It’s your first DWI charge.

  • There was no accident involved.

  • Your BAC was below .15 percent.

Commercially licensed drivers are not eligible for deferred adjudication.

Deferred adjudication is a form of probation, which affords you the opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve learned from your mistake while the formal conviction stays off your record. It’s important to note, however, that you’ll need to successfully complete each of the terms addressed in your deferred adjudication, which can include all the following:

  • Installing an ignition interlock device in every vehicle you drive

  • Paying associated fines

  • Completing a DWI education class

  • Submitting to random alcohol testing

  • Fulfilling community service hours

  • Reporting to a probation officer

Successfully completing the terms of your deferred adjudication will keep the DWI conviction off your record, but that isn’t the end of the story. The record of your deferred adjudication is permanent and isn’t eligible for expungement. The original proceedings, including your arrest and court hearings, will remain on your record– regardless of conviction.

To have these original proceedings removed, you’ll need to petition the court for an Order of Nondisclosure, which is a complicated legal matter on its own. And even if you are successful, certain governmental agencies can still access the information for background checks.

Finally, though a successful DWI deferred adjudication won’t lead to a conviction, it can still be used for enhancement purposes moving forward. The bottom line is that accepting a deferred adjudication is also an admission of guilt, and it comes with complications of its own.

A BAC that’s Over .15 Percent

Even for a first offense, a BAC of .15 percent or higher is an enhancement, and in this case, it raises the charge from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor. The fines and penalties for a Class A misdemeanor include:

  • A jail sentence of from 30 days to a year

  • Fines of up to $4,000

  • Driver’s license suspension of up to 2 years

The more alcohol in a motorist’s system, the more significantly their ability to drive safely is affected, and Texas addresses this fact with charge enhancements.

A Child Passenger in the Car

If you’re charged with DWI while a minor under the age of 15 is in the vehicle with you, it’s a state jail felony. The penalties include a jail sentence of up to 2 years, fines of up to $10,000, and an enhanced driver’s license suspension. It’s important to recognize that if you are facing a custody case, a DWI with a child passenger can seriously affect the outcome of your case.

Further, you can face a child endangerment charge in addition to the DWI charge, which can lead to the need for ongoing sobriety testing or monitoring, the imposition of supervised parenting time, and other consequences that can affect your child's custody rights.

Prior Convictions

There are certain factors that can elevate even a first DWI from a misdemeanor to a felony, and prior convictions are one such example. If you have any of the following DWI convictions on your record in the five years prior, it is very likely to translate to a harsher sentence:

  • Driving while intoxicated

  • Flying while intoxicated

  • Boating while intoxicated

  • Operating an amusement ride while intoxicated

A conviction for any of these while intoxicated charges can enhance the penalty for any other. With one prior conviction, you can expect your Class B misdemeanor to be enhanced to a Class A misdemeanor. If, however, you are facing a third or subsequent DWI, the charge can be elevated to a third-degree felony.

The fines and penalties for third-degree felony DWI convictions include:

  • A prison sentence of from 2 to 10 years

  • Fines of up to $10,000

  • License suspension of up to 2 years

Intoxication Assault

If you are charged with causing an accident that results in serious bodily injury to someone else while intoxicated, it’s called intoxication assault, and it’s a considerably more serious offense. Serious bodily injury here means any injury that puts the victim at serious risk of death, that causes them severe permanent disfigurement, or loss of a bodily organ or its functioning.

Intoxication assault is generally charged as a third-degree felony, but there are enhancements that can apply from here. These include:

  • If the victim was a firefighter or emergency medical services personnel in the line of duty, the charge can be elevated to a second-degree felony.

  • If the victim was a police officer or judge in the process of discharging an official duty, the charge can be elevated to a first-degree felony.

A second-degree felony DWI carries the following penalties and fines:

  • A prison sentence of from 2 to 20 years

  • Fines of up to $10,000

A first-degree felony DWI carries the harshest fines and penalties, which include:

  • A prison sentence of from 5 to 99 years

  • Fines of up to $10,000

Intoxication Manslaughter

When a motorist’s intoxication leads to an accident that kills another person, it’s classified as intoxication manslaughter, and if more than one person dies as a result, the driver can face multiple intoxication manslaughter charges.

The charge is generally a second-degree felony unless the victim was a law enforcement officer, a firefighter, or an emergency medical services personnel. At this point, the charge is elevated to a first-degree felony.

Having a DWI on Your Record

If you have a DWI on your record, it can directly affect your driving privileges. Without the ability to drive, get to work, and conduct your life as you know it, your life can fall by the wayside. Further, the conviction is a matter of public record, and some employers fire employees for far less.

In fact, many companies impose a blanket hiring practice that weeds out anyone with a criminal conviction, such as DWI, on their record. The social consequences of a DWI conviction can be far more challenging than you realize, including all the following:

  • Because the information is available to the public, it can make it more difficult to rent an apartment or house.

  • Your record can affect your ability to get a home loan.

  • You’ll be ineligible for federal student loans, which can derail your career goals.

  • You may be denied acceptance to the college of your choice.

  • You can be denied the right to live on campus.

  • Your freedom to travel internationally can be affected.

  • Your insurance premiums can increase significantly.

  • Your overall standing in the community can be tarnished.

Your Driver’s License

As soon as you are charged with DWI in Texas, your plastic driver’s license will be taken from you and replaced with a Notice of Suspension. This notice will stand in as your temporary license for 40 days. From here, unless you request an Administrative License Revocation (ALR) hearing within 15 days of arrest, your license will be suspended on day 41.

The ALR Hearing

If you do request an ALR hearing during that 15-day window, your license suspension will be put on hold until the hearing is conducted – even if it’s scheduled more than 40 days out. The ALR hearing is a civil process in which the state must prove that your license should be suspended, which is generally accomplished by demonstrating one of the following:

  • That your BAC was over the .08 limit

  • That you refused submission for testing

Typically, the state conducts these hearings based on the arresting officer’s sworn affidavit of their arrest memories and notes. You, however, have the right to require the officer’s attendance but to do so, you’ll have to serve them with a subpoena.

By having the officer present, your attorney has the opportunity to record their statement and potentially elicit additional information that wasn’t included in the police report. This can be helpful in terms of both the ALR hearing and your DWI case.

The State’s Burden of Proof

For the state to prevail, they must prove that the police had the requisite reasonable suspicion to pull you over in the first place and that they had the probable cause necessary to test your BAC. This is in addition to proving that your BAC was, indeed, over the limit.

If the State Prevails

If the state prevails and you lose your ALR hearing, you have 30 days from the posting of results to appeal, and failure to appeal means that your license will be suspended on day 31. However, a timely appeal will buy you an additional 90 days of driving privileges, which can prove beneficial if you take your DWI case to court.

If your license is ultimately suspended, however, there are circumstances in which you may be allowed to continue driving, such as under the restricted conditions of an occupational driver’s license.

Discuss Your Case with an Experienced Round Rock Criminal Defense Attorney Today

Brett Pritchard, at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Round Rock, Texas, is a formidable criminal defense attorney whose decades of impressive experience leave him very well positioned to build your strongest case in pursuit of its optimal outcome.

For more information about what we can do to help you, please don’t hesitate to contact us or call us at 254-781-4222 to schedule your free consultation today.

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