This article is part one of a two-part series outlining the consequences of driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Texas. This first part will cover the criminal consequences, while the second part will identify some of the civil ramifications.
The first consequence that most people think of is, of course, jail time. The amount of jail time that can be imposed varies, depending on the level of the offense and the circumstances of the offense.
A first DWI is generally classified as a Class B misdemeanor, which can result in up to 180 days in jail, unless one of several factors applies:
- The minimum term of confinement is 72 hours for a first DWI.
- If an open container of alcohol is found in the car, the minimum amount of confinement is 6 days.
- If your blood alcohol level is more than 0.15 the offense is bumped up to a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year in jail.
- If you have a child under 15 in the vehicle, the offense is bumped up to a state jail felony, which carries a range of 180 days to 2 years in jail.
- If another person is seriously injured, the offense is bumped up to a third degree felony, which is punishable by imprisonment for 2 to 10 years.
- If the injured person is a police officer, firefighter, or EMS and the injury occurs while they are carrying out their official duties, the offense is bumped up to a second degree felony, which has a punishment range of 2 to 20 years in prison.
- If another person dies, the offense is bumped up to a second degree felony.
- If the person who died was a police officer, firefighter, or EMS and the injury occurred while they are carrying out their official duties, the offense is bumped up to the first degree felony, which has a punishment range of 5 to 99 years in prison.
A second DWI is classified as a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by a minimum of 30 days in jail, up to a maximum of one year in jail. If the current or previous DWI offense involved injury or death to the passenger, then the offense is also increased, and the new level of offense depends upon the current and prior charges.
A third DWI is a third degree felony, with up to ten years in jail.
Fines can also be imposed as punishment. For a Class B misdemeanor, the maximum fine is $2,000. For Class A misdemeanors, the maximum is $4,000, and for all felonies, the maximum is $10,000.
Probation, also known as community supervision, is another punishment option. If you are granted probation, you would not have to serve your jail sentence, as long as you successfully complied with the terms of probation. The community supervision period will generally be for a longer period than the corresponding jail time. For instance, a six month sentence might be probated for one year. While on probation, you will have to meet certain conditions. These conditions may include things like installing an ignition interlock device in your car, attending Alcoholics Anonymous classes, doing community service, and being subject to random urinalysis testing. One of the conditions of probation may be a short term in jail. Time in jail as a condition of probation is required under Texas law as follows:
- For a second DWI, the judge is required to sentence you to 72 hours in jail as a condition of probation.
- For a second DWI committed within five years of the first, the judge is required to sentence you to five days in jail as a condition of probation.
- For many repeat DWI offenses involving injury, the judge is required to sentence you to ten days in jail as a condition of probation.
- For intoxication assault (someone was injured as a result of the intoxication), the judge is required to sentence you to 30 days in jail as a condition of probation.
- For intoxication manslaughter (someone died as a result of the intoxication), the judge is required to sentence you to 120 days in jail as a condition of probation.
The last punishment option is pre-trial diversion. This may not be available in all counties. In Harris County, this program was previously known as DIVERT. In pre-trial diversion, the defendant must comply with certain conditions of community supervision and the charge would be dismissed upon successful completion. However, it is difficult to qualify for this program. Applicants must first meet the District Attorney’s Office’s requirements, which typically require that (1) no accident must have occurred, (2) the breath or blood test must indicate a blood alcohol concentration below 0.15, and (3) your case must be pending in a court that allows pre-trial diversion in DWI cases. Once all these requirements are met, applicants must then take a SALCE test. This test attempts to assess a person’s substance abuse and life circumstance behaviors. After this test, the person must be interviewed by a probation officer. The probation officer will make a recommendation to the prosecutor as to whether the person is a good candidate for pre-trial diversion. If you are accepted into the program and successfully complete it, you may be able to have records of the charge expunged completely.
If you were an adult (21 years old or over) at the time of the arrest, the court is also required to suspend your driver’s license upon a DWI conviction, unless the case is your first DWI, and you successfully complete a DWI education course within 180 days. The suspension periods are as follows:
- First DWI offense (adult): 90 days to one year.
- Second DWI offense (adult): 180 days to two years.
- Second DWI offense within five years (adult): one year to two years.
If you are a minor (under 21 years of age) at the time of the arrest, two Texas laws arguably conflict. Under one statute, you will face a 90 day suspension, with an ignition interlock required as a term of probation. Under another statute, the suspension period is one year, but the suspension is not required if you have an ignition interlock required as a condition of your suspension and if you complete a DWI education class within 180 days. If you have been arrested accused of drunk driving, then you will need the assistance of an experienced Houston DWI lawyer to aide in your defense.
As you can see, a DWI charge is a very serious matter and it is very important that you have a knowledgeable and competent attorney to represent you. Next week, we will discuss non-criminal consequences of a DWI.