In Texas, Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) is a common charge people face. Depending on a number of factors, DWI charges may be either misdemeanors or felonies.
First Time Offenders
A first offense DWI in Texas is classified as a Class B misdemeanor. The punishment range is from 3 days in jail up to 180 days in jail and up to a $2000 fine when the person's blood alcohol concentration is below 0.15. If the BAC shows a result of more than 0.15 the offense becomes a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year confinement in the county jail and up to a $4000 fine.
In a majority of cases, if a person is found guilty of a first-time offense the court will place the individual on probation. In 2019, the Texas Legislature also made it possible for a person to receive deferred adjudication (a form of probation that isn't a final conviction) on DWI cases.
Second Time Offenders
If a person is charged with a subsequent DWI, the offense becomes a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year confinement in the county jail and up to a $4000 fine. In many cases the person can still receive probation, however, deferred adjudication is no longer allowed.
If a person is arrested on suspicion of DWI after being convicted of DWI on two previous occasions, they are facing a third-degree felony charge. The possible punishment for an offense at this level is between 2 -10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. A person found guilty of felony DWI may still be able to receive probation, however, the terms and conditions of the probation are much more stringent.
Additionally, even if a person has never been convicted of DWI, if the suspect is stopped with a child under the age of 15 in the car then the suspect may be charged with a State Jail Felony with a range of punishment between 180 days and 2 years in the State Jail Facility and up to a $10,000 fine.
What the State has to Prove
In Texas, in order for the State to prove a person is driving while intoxicated, a prosecutor must prove that the driver either had a blood alcohol concentration above 0.08 or that the driver had lost the normal use of his/her mental or physical faculties. In many cases where the State proceeds on a theory based on the "loss of normal use" the State does not need to prove the person's BAC. Instead, the government typically relies on what the suspect looks like on a dashcam video and the arresting officer's observations. In many cases, the prosecutor will rely upon the observations and results of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests the arresting officer administered prior to arresting the suspect.
Hiring an attorney who is knowledgable about the Field Sobriety Tests as well as the science and procedures used in blood and breath testing is important to ensure that your rights are protected and that the government is held to its burden of proof in your case.
So What Should I Do If I'm Suspected of Driving While Intoxicated?
In Texas, you are not legally required to perform Field Sobriety Tests if you are stopped for suspicion of Driving While Intoxicated. Everything you do and say will factor into the officer's decision about whether or not to arrest you for DWI.
In Texas, if you are arrested for suspicion of DWI, you can also refuse to provide a breath sample or blood specimen. Keep in mind, however, that refusing to provide a breath or blood specimen may result in a driver's license suspension. Additionally, the police officer who arrested you may be able to get a search warrant to have medical personnel draw your blood for testing to see if you're intoxicated. If a judge signs a search warrant, then you have do not have the right to refuse to provide the blood specimen and police officers may use a reasonable amount of force (e.g. strap you down) to draw your blood.
DWI cases are very fact-specific and even first-time misdemeanor offenses can be complex. If you're arrested for suspicion of Driving While Intoxicated you should seek legal counsel as soon as you can to help prepare your defense.
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