Did you know that for a first-time offense, driving while under the influence in Texas can land you a $2,000 fine and up to 180 in jail, among other consequences? Simply put, we know that being charged with driving under the influence of alcohol can be a daunting experience.
However, it’s important to understand the differences between these two charges so you know what to expect in terms of penalties and consequences if convicted. After all, what exactly is the difference when it comes to DWI vs. DUI in Texas?
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down the major differences between DWI and DUI in Texas, from their definitions to possible punishments, so that you are better informed about your rights and court proceedings. Then, we’ll walk you through the steps of finding a DUI attorney.
What’s the Legal Drinking Age in Texas?
Before diving into DWI vs. DUI in Texas, it’s important to know what the legal drinking age is. The legal drinking age in Texas is 21 years old. This means that you must be at least 21 years of age to:
- Consume alcohol
People under 21 can still go out to restaurants and bars. However, they’re not allowed to drink any alcoholic beverages even if a legal guardian agrees. Additionally, any individuals providing alcohol to those under the legal drinking age can face fines and even jail time.
What’s important to know is that consuming alcohol while operating a motor vehicle is illegal regardless of how old you are. Whether you’re 20 or 80, this can land you in some legal trouble. However, there are special laws about driving while under the influence as a minor, too.
What Is a DWI in Texas?
DWI stands for “driving while intoxicated.” A DWI in Texas is a serious offense. Simply being under the influence of alcohol or drugs while publicly operating any kind of vehicle, vessel, or even something as simple as water skis can get you into legal trouble. In Texas, a DWI is a Class B misdemeanor.
In Texas, a Class B misdemeanor isn’t as severe as a felony charge. However, if you’re charged with a DWI and convicted, you could receive up to 180 days in a county jail or pay a fine of up to $2,000.
What qualifies as a DWI? If your body has a higher than .08 percent concentration of alcohol (or any other drug) then you’re considered intoxicated under Texas DWI laws. Even if your blood alcohol level is less than .08 percent, you might still receive a citation if your mental or physical faculties are impaired enough to affect your ability to drive.
DWI offenders face both criminal penalties and administrative bills. While this might not seem like a big deal, it can greatly affect your job, family life, and financial situation. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of DWI laws and always make responsible decisions when getting behind the wheel.
What Is a DUI in Texas?
DUI stands for “driving under the influence.” Under Texas law, anyone under 21 years old found with any amount of alcohol in their system while driving can be cited for DUI.
Even if the minor is below the legal limit or hasn’t lost the normal use of their mental facilities, they can still be arrested and face consequences, ranging from fines and driver’s license suspensions to having their case mishandled which could cause life-long repercussions.
Likewise, it’s illegal to operate a motor vehicle on a public road while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This means that a DUI in Texas is a charge that can potentially have serious long-term consequences.
What’s most important to know is that, according to Texas laws, a DUI is classified as a Class C misdemeanor. While the maximum fine for a first offense can only be up to $500, any subsequent DUI offenses can result in significant jail time. So, DUIs aren’t as severe as DWIs, but you still need to take them seriously.
Additionally, those convicted of DUI usually must also perform community service, attend alcohol awareness classes, and may even face probation. Furthermore, the Texas Department of Public Safety often issues an automatic suspension of your driver’s license if you’re a minor charged with a DUI.
Administrative license revocation (otherwise known as ALR) indicates just how serious this charge is.
DWI vs. DUI in Texas: What’s the Difference?
Both of the definitions above sound similar, right? Honestly, they are pretty similar but not the same.
DWI, as mentioned, stands for driving while intoxicated, and DUI stands for driving under the influence. In particular, in Texas DWI is a more serious offense with stricter penalties associated than DUI.
DWI involves operating a car with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher and is classified as a Class B misdemeanor. A conviction can mean:
- Up to 180 days in jail
- Heavy fines
- Driver’s license suspension or revocation
- Installation of an ignition interlock device
- Court-ordered DWI classes or community service
On the other hand, driving under the influence in Texas applies to any situation where the driver has ingested controlled substances that prohibit them from safely operating a vehicle (even if they don’t meet the legal threshold for DWI).
And though it can apply to any type of drug or alcohol use, becomes particularly relevant to minors in Texas because it refers to any measurable amount of impairing agent present in their system — no matter how small it is.
As such, a DUI is classified as a Class C misdemeanor with possible punishments including fines up to $500 and community service of up to 40 hours. In either case, you should never drive under the influence or run the risk of major penalties no matter what state you’re in (not to mention the risk you pose to other drivers on the road when you engage in drunk driving).
DWI vs. DUI in Texas: What’s the Penalty?
Being convicted of a DWI in Texas is worse than being convicted of a DUI. It’s the difference between being charged with a Class B misdemeanor versus a Class C misdemeanor. But, what are the actual penalties and fines for each offense under Texas law?
As a DUI is the less serious of the two, the penalties for this type of legal offense aren’t as drastic. Overall, a DUI carries a lighter penalty with no jail time or criminal record. The maximum penalty for a DUI in Texas is a $500 fine, probation, community service, and alcohol awareness classes.
Keep in mind, though, that this is just for the first offense. If you’re caught and charged with a subsequent DUI then you can receive jail time. So, if you’re charged with a DUI we suggest you take the alcohol awareness classes seriously and learn how to prevent further run-ins with the law.
One thing that can get you in more trouble is refusing to submit to a blood alcohol test. In Texas, refusing to submit to a blood, breath, or urine test can lead to a license suspension if an officer has valid reasons to suspect you’re under the influence. If you refuse to take the test and you’re under 21, they can suspend your license for at least a year.
As a Class B misdemeanor, a DWI in Texas can come with jail time, license suspension, and potential felony charges depending on your blood alcohol content. For example, if your BAC is higher than .15 in Texas, a DWI becomes a Class A misdemeanor. If you injure someone while intoxicated, you might face second or third-degree felony charges.
If you’re convicted of those felony charges, you could face between two to 10 years in prison and have to pay fines of up to $10,000.
However, if you just get pulled over and charged with a regular DWI, the minimum amount of jail time is 72 hours. If the cops found an open container in your car then you will serve a minimum of at least six days in a local county jail.
What happens if you’re convicted of a DWI in Texas? Your license will be suspended for at least 90 days and up to a full year. Additionally, even if you’re not convicted, if your blood, breath, or urine test results come back positive for alcohol, you’ll receive an automatic suspension of your license. The same goes if you refuse to submit to a BAC test.
The bottom line? Both offenses come with steep fines, license suspensions, DWI Education classes, and potentially ignition interlock devices on vehicles if necessary. However, a DWI comes with more time behind bars attached to it as well as elevated fines.
What to Do After a DWI or DUI in Texas
If you’ve been charged with DWI in Texas, you might be feeling overwhelmed and confused. DWI charges can be serious and should not be taken lightly. One of the first things to do is consult with an experienced DWI or DUI attorney who can provide legal guidance and support throughout the process.
A knowledgeable attorney familiar with driving laws and court proceedings will help ensure your rights are protected and minimize the fines, jail time, and other consequences you may face. In addition to finding a lawyer, it may also be beneficial to invest in DWI counseling or treatment programs that have proven successful in DWI cases.
It’s important to take the appropriate steps to try and resolve the situation quickly as DWIs can stay on your record for many years. However, if you handle the charges effectively, DWIs don’t have to define your life going forward.
How to Find the Right DUI Attorney
So, you’ve been charged with a DWI or DUI and have gone through the tips above. Now, how do you find the right attorney for your legal needs? Whether you’re a first-time offender or have had DWI charges in the past, here are a few steps to follow.
Ask for Referrals
Getting a referral from someone you trust is one of the easiest ways to ensure you get the absolute best representation in your case. Lawyers with multiple recommendations from people who have experienced their services are usually reliable and well-practiced in DWI defense.
Plus, it’s a great way to hear firsthand accounts that can help inform your decision. Asking for referrals will save you time searching through profiles on lawyer review sites and provide peace of mind that your DWI attorney is equipped with the right qualifications to give you a favorable outcome in court.
Check Their Website
With a few referrals in hand, it’s time to start researching each attorney’s website. Check out their service offerings to ensure they handle DWI and DUI cases in Texas. It should give clear details about their areas of practice and experience so that you can check if they have handled cases similar to yours in the past.
In addition to giving you pertinent info on the lawyer, their website should also reflect their values and legal philosophy so that you can decide if they are a good fit for your particular case. Ultimately checking the attorney’s website can give you more confidence in your choice of DWI attorney.
Schedule a Consultation
When looking for a DWI attorney, it is important to schedule a consultation with them before making any decisions. Doing so allows you to have an open dialogue about your case and get to know your attorney. It allows you to ask any questions or discuss any concerns that you may have in a comfortable setting.
Additionally, it gives the attorney an understanding of both your case and desires so they can provide you with tailored legal advice that meets your needs.
Ask the Right Questions
It’s difficult to know what to ask. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. However, here are some common questions we see:
- Can I be convicted if my BAC was below .08?
- Does marijuana count as driving under the influence in Texas?
- What charges am I facing?
- Should I represent myself in court?
- Have you handled similar cases?
- What are your fees for a case like this?
As you start looking through your charges and speaking with attorneys, keep a list of questions you’d like answers to. Don’t hold anything back. If you don’t feel comfortable asking certain questions then the attorney probably isn’t the right fit for you.
Work With the Best DWI Attorney in Austin
When it comes to DWI vs. DUI in Texas, the most important thing to know is that both are serious offenses that can affect your future if you’re not careful. While a DWI is slightly more serious, it’s a great idea to have an attorney on your side regardless of what you’re charged with.
In need of a DWI attorney or DUI attorney in Texas? We have the experience you’re looking for. Get in touch to set up a consultation now.