We go on living our blissful lives believing only hardened criminals with bad reputations ever come into conflict with the law, not normal people like us! You have a regular life with a normal family and a boring job, why will you ever need to see the walls of a jail cell?
You wouldn’t believe how easily that bubble bursts. And one day, you find yourself getting arrested, visiting police precincts, and marking court hearing dates on your calendar. All it takes is a little alcohol in your system when you are driving back to your home for your ordinary life to completely do a 360 and suddenly resemble a badly written crime thriller.
All this when it is completely legal to drive with some alcohol in your system in Texas. Well, kind of! If you are in control of your mental and physical faculties while you were driving, and your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was less than 0.08%, you can’t be charged in any court of law.
But knowing your exact BAC when deciding whether to get behind the wheels can be tricky. Not to mention, the possibility of a criminal charge doesn’t even occur to most of us when we’ve just had such a great night out with friends. Therefore, it becomes all the more important to understand DWI laws in-depth and know just what to do if you are charged with a DWI in the state of Texas.
What Is the Difference Between DUI and DWI?
If any person of any age is found to be driving while:
- they lacked the normal use of their mental or physical faculties, or
- they had a BAC of 0.08% or more.
They will be charged with a DWI in the state of Texas. That means if you are driving with so little alcohol in your system that your BAC is less than 0.08% and you are in complete control of your vehicle, you are not breaking any law.
That is unless you are a minor. The state of Texas has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving. So, if you are under the age of 21 and you are found with any amount of alcohol or drugs in your system while driving, you will be slapped with a DUI charge.
The definition of DUI and DWI change from state to state and in many states, these terms are even used interchangeably. But in Texas, only a minor can be charged with a DUI. They also differ drastically in punishments.
A DUI does not lead to any jail time, but you may have to spend up to 180 days in jail if you are convicted of a DWI. And the fine for a DUI is significantly lower than that of a DWI.
A repeat driving while intoxicated offense can increase your punishment significantly. However, if a minor with a prior DUI charge is arrested for a DWI later in their life, the DUI will not be taken into consideration to categorize the DWI charge as a repeat DWI offense. All in all, both DUI and DWI are extremely serious offenses, but if you are a minor and are facing these charges, it would be in your favor to get your charges converted to a DUI. (For more details, read DUI vs DWI)
How can you do that? Reach out to Austin DWI lawyer James Gill to talk about your options today.
Consequences of a DWI
Let’s be honest, you know you shouldn’t drink and drive, you’ve seen all the after-school specials and a thousand street signs. But this general rule fails to acknowledge the circumstances that sometimes lead you to the driver’s seat despite your level of intoxication.
Unfortunately, this will still get you in a lot of trouble if an enforcement officer finds a reason to pull you over when you are driving. They will then ask you to blow into a breathalyzer to determine your current BAC level. If you refuse to take the breathalyzer test, the cops will likely get a warrant for your blood test. You will then be taken into custody to get your blood tested.
If you are arrested for a high BAC, you will likely face the following DWI consequences in the state of Texas.
- You will have to pay a fine of up to $2000 for your first offense, but it will increase to up to $4000 if it was your second offense and up to $10,000 for a third offense.
- You may have to serve jail time of up to 180 days for your first DWI, up to 1 year for the second, and 2-10 years for your third DWI offense.
- Your driver’s license will get suspended for up to a period of 1 year if this was your first DWI, otherwise, it will get suspended for up to 2 years.
- You will need to pay a license surcharge from $1000-$2000 per year.
- You may lose your job if your employer runs a criminal background check on you.
- You may have trouble finding new jobs and apartments because the DWI conviction will leave a permanent mark on your criminal record.
- You might lose your professional licenses and security clearances.
- You may get refused a student loan.
Driving while intoxicated is considered a Class B misdemeanor under the Texas Penal Code, but can be promoted to other types of misdemeanors or even a felony DWI if any aggravating factors were discovered. Eg. if your BAC is found to be higher than 0.15, the charges turn into a Class A misdemeanor instead.
How Long Does a DWI Stay On Record in Texas?
The short answer is – driving while intoxicated, like all misdemeanor charges, stays on your record forever. But that is only if you don’t proactively take steps to get it removed from there. Yes, you can get your DWI record expunged or sealed through an order of nondisclosure.
You can get a non-disclosure order issued only if your DWI was your first criminal offense (barring any minor traffic offenses that are only punishable by fines) and was categorized as a misdemeanor. That means you shouldn’t have any other convictions on your record when you apply for a non-disclosure order.
You can get your DWI record expunged if you receive a not guilty verdict at a jury trial, or if your DWI charges were dismissed before one. Basically, if you were never convicted, you are not required to carry the burden of these charges all your life.
You may have to wait for 2 – 3 years from the date of dismissal to get your record cleaned if you are going through the expunction route. But you can get your first DWI in Texas dismissed through a non-disclosure order by waiting for 2 to 5 years from the end date of your probation.
So, if you do have a DWI on your record, you should immediately hire an Austin DWI lawyer to find out the best possible way to make your record squeaky clean again.
Is DWI Considered a Felony?
If you are facing driving while intoxicated charges, you need to immediately hire a lawyer. That is because it doesn’t take much for the prosecutor to get your Class B misdemeanor charges converted to a felony. An experienced Austin DWI lawyer can look over the facts and make strategies to guide your case towards the best possible outcome.
Here are some of the aggravating circumstances that can lead to a felony DWI charge as per the Texas Penal Code.
- If this was your third or later DWI charge.
- If you had a child passenger in your car when you were driving while intoxicated.
- If you were involved in a car accident while driving intoxicated and someone got injured.
- If someone died in an accident involving you while you were driving while intoxicated.
- If you were charged with a DWI for the third or later time and you have a previous record of being imprisoned in state prison.
Fighting a DWI
If you or your loved one has been charged with a DWI, your first step should be to fight it and get your DWI cases dismissed. The best way to do that would be to hire an experienced Austin DWI lawyer.
A lawyer knows what evidence is admissible and what can easily be contested. If not dealt with properly, the prosecution can make your case worse than it needs to be.
Is It Worth Fighting a DWI in Texas
The worst thing people do when they are charged with a DWI is panic and plead guilty to make everything go away faster. Pleading guilty almost always ensures that you will be convicted and that too with the original offense with little option of getting it reduced to a lesser charge.
Pleading ‘not guilty’ keeps the door for later intervention open and increases the odds of getting a DWI dropped or at least getting it to be reduced to a lower charge of public intoxication, reckless driving, or obstruction of a passageway. These offenses lead to lesser punishments and ensure a better chance of leading a normal life after your sentence is over.
Rate of Texas DWI Dismissal
If you plead not guilty, there is almost a 15% chance of getting a DWI dismissal and a 30% chance of it to be reduced to a lesser charge. Whereas, there is virtually no chance of getting your driving while intoxicated charge changed if you decide to plead guilty. Please note that paying the fine is considered an admission of guilt.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety statistics, there were a total of 89,457 reported DWI cases in Texas in 2021, out of which:
- 1,824 resulted in release with no charges;
- 8,044 were convicted for the original offense;
- 3,834 were convicted for offenses other than the original offense; and
- 1,917 received a DWI dismissal.
The state of Texas does not track the DWI dismissal rate as it could backfire and result in a reduction of guilty pleadings. But it is not difficult to conclude that pleading ‘not guilty’ gives you better chances of dismissal of DWI Texas than a ‘guilty’ plea. A not guilty plea coupled with a good Austin DWI lawyer can even get your case thrown out before it escalates any further.
How to Get a DWI Dismissed
When you hire an experienced lawyer to represent you in your DWI case, you can rest assured that they will leave no stone unturned to find discrepancies in the prosecutor’s case. Here is some evidence your lawyer can review and challenge in court.
- The police report should clearly justify the exact reasons for why you were pulled over. If the reasons are not clear, it will be considered a huge violation of your rights, and your lawyer can make a case to get your charges thrown away.
- An experienced lawyer knows that most enforcement officers don’t follow proper protocols while conducting sobriety tests at the scene. Your lawyer can help you argue the validity and authenticity of these tests and in turn, your charges.
- Your attorney can demand extra documents from the State to check the validity of the machines used for conducting the BAC tests. If the State fails to reveal them, your test results can also be excluded on these grounds.
Is a Lawyer Necessary to Have a DWI Dismissed in Texas
Austin criminal lawyer James Gill can help you at any and every stage of your DWI case. If you were just charged with a DWI or DUI, he can help you get a not guilty verdict or get the case dismissed altogether.
You should not attempt to navigate the justice system all on your own and immediately contact a lawyer to understand your options. Austin DWI attorney, James Gill has countless years of experience defending those facing DWI, drug charges, and other criminal charges in Texas. Call today to schedule a consultation at 512-448-4560. The Law Offices of James Gill, PLLC serves all of Austin, Westlake, Kyle, Buda, San Marcos, and the surrounding TX communities.