Driving while intoxicated (DWI) can be one of the most life-changing criminal charges you could end up facing in your life. Unfortunately, if you are from the state of Texas, you are more likely to be involved in this type of case.
From 2018 to 2020, there were 5,129 deaths related to drunk driving in Texas. That was high enough to place them as the fourth worst state for death rate (deaths per 100,000 residents) during this time period.
DWI charges are serious enough if you just get pulled over for drunk driving. However, if you are adding a serious bodily injury or manslaughter to said charge, your life could be over as you know it.
So, what do you know about Texas DWI laws? What should you know about the DWI laws? This is your guide.
What Is a DWI?
DWI stands for driving while intoxicated. That means that you were driving a motor vehicle while being above the legal limit of alcohol that you can have in your system while you are driving.
Now, some people may get confused about what the difference between a DUI (driving under the influence) and DWI is. The truth is that some states just use one or the other to describe the criminal charge above rather than as two separate terms. Texas is one of these states.
However, other states use them as two separate terms. When that happens, DWIs are typically the focus of drunk driving while DUIs focus on driving while on certain drugs. This can be abusing prescription drugs or even some illegal drugs like marijuana, cocaine, etc.
You do not want to get caught with a DWI charge in any circumstance but if you do, the first offense is by far the most lenient compared to further offenses.
However, even on a first offense, you will still have to spend three days in jail. The maximum amount of days that you can go to jail on a first offense is 180 days.
You will also face a fine of up to $2,000 and you can lose your driver’s license for up to a year. On top of this, you will get an annual surcharge from the state of Texas of $1,000 annually for three years.
A first offense DWI charge is a Class B Misdemeanor.
If you happen to get caught with a DWI charge again in the state of Texas, you better be ready for the consequences to be harsher than last time. You will move up in misdemeanor class, going from Class B to Class A.
Instead of a minimum jail time of three days, you would face a minimum of 30 days on a second offense. You can have a maximum jail sentence of up to one year.
You are also going to face a fine of up to $4,000 and you can lose your driver’s license for up to two years. Also, you are looking at a $1,500 annual surcharge from the state for three years.
A first offense can be considered just a mistake. A second offense may even be unlucky. However, a third offense tends to show the state that you are developing a pattern when it comes to drunk driving.
Texas really lays the hammer down once you reach a third DWI offense. At this offense level, it goes from a misdemeanor to a Third Degree Felony.
The minimum and maximum jail time for a third DWI both increase at least 10 times. A minimum prison sentence is going to be two years and you can be put in prison for up to 10 years.
As for other punishments, you are looking at a fine of up to $10,000 and a loss of your driver’s license for up to two years. In addition to these, you would face an annual state surcharge of $2,000 for three years.
As if having three prior DWIs was not enough, a fourth offense with a previous prison sentence for a DWI can land you in a world of trouble.
It is a second-degree felony and you face a fine of up to $10,000. You would also be looking at a minimum prison sentence of two years and a maximum prison sentence of up to 20 years.
On top of this, you would have another $2,000 annual state surcharge for three years.
You could end up in prison for a long time on a fourth offense and with the penalties of a fifth offense, this one could be your last chance to turn your life around.
A fifth DWI in Texas is generally the last straw for the state. At this point, they are going to take measures that ensure that you are no longer going to be a danger to yourself and society.
The most effective way that they do this is with their minimum and maximum prison sentence terms for a fifth DWI offense. In this state, the minimum time for a fifth offense is 25 years. The maximum prison sentence is LIFE.
So yes, that means that by the time that you reach this stage, you are going to be spending a significant amount of time in prison.
That prison sentence is the biggest penalty in this offense but you also face a maximum fine of $10,000 and an annual surcharge from the state of $2,000 for three years.
Not that this matters for how long of prison time you would face, but you would also risk losing your driver’s license for up to two years.
The offense level for a fifth DWI offense is Enhanced Felony Punishment.
DWI With Child Passenger
There are a few specific situations where a DWI can have its own separate charge. One of those cases is if a drunk driver has a child passenger in their car. For this charge, a child is someone that is under 15 years old.
With this type of charge, it does not matter if it was your first ever DWI offense or not. You are still going to get a harsher sentence because you endangered a child.
Rather than just a misdemeanor, this is considered a State Jail Felony in Texas. You face a fine of up to $10,000 and an annual state surcharge of $2,000 for three years.
Also, rather than facing a minimum of three days in jail for a first DWI, you are looking at at least six months in a state jail if you had a child in the car during a DWI. The maximum jail time for this is two years.
As for a driver’s license suspension, it would be at least 90 days, but you can lose your driver’s license for up to two years.
First DWI With .15 or Above BAC
In Texas, you can also receive a harsher punishment for a DWI if your BAC (blood alcohol concentration) is practically double the legal limit.
For the charges above, you just need a .08 BAC to get a DWI charge. These punishments are what happens if you go significantly over that limit.
Rather than a Class B Misdemeanor, this would be a Class A Misdemeanor. You would face a fine of up to $4,000 and be charged an annual state surcharge of $2,000 for three years.
The good news is that with this type of DWI charge, the minimum jail time is still only three days. However, the maximum jail time can be up to a year rather than six months.
As for a driver’s license suspension, you would be looking at the same range as a normal DWI. It can go from anywhere from 90 days to a full year. However, with the severity of this charge, it is more likely to be above the minimum days.
Part of the reason that the punishments increase here is that if a drunk driver has a BAC of .10 or more, they are seven times more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash.
As stated in the introduction, some DWIs have very serious consequences that result in physical damage to others. This charge is when you get charged with a DWI and anyone else in your car or another car gets seriously hurt because you were driving drunk.
This type of DWI charge is considered a third-degree felony. It has a fine of up to $10,000 and an annual state surcharge of $1,000 for three years.
The minimum amount of time that you lose your driver’s license here is at least 180 days but you can lose it for up to two years.
If you are found guilty of this type of DWI, you are looking at prison time. This would be for a minimum of two years but your sentence can be as long as 10 years.
Out of all of the DWI charges listed above, this one is the most serious of all because it includes the loss of life. That loss of life can be a passenger in your car or the life of someone in another car that was involved.
This charge is considered a second-degree felony. You would face a fine of up to $10,000 in addition to an annual state surcharge of $1,000 for three years.
Just like an intoxication assault, the minimum time that you would lose your driver’s license is 180 days and the maximum amount of time is two years.
Also similar to an intoxication result, you are looking at prison time no matter what. The minimum prison time for this offense is two years and the maximum prison time is 10 years.
The state of Texas has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to minors who drink alcohol. That means that anyone who is driving a vehicle with any amount of alcohol in their system is going to be charged if they are under the age of 21.
If a minor has a BAC of .08 or above, then they can be charged as an adult for a DWI in the state of Texas. When that happens, all of the charges for regular DWIs above would apply to the minor in question. However, they are more likely to avoid jail time for these charges than a typical adult.
However, if the BAC is anywhere between .00 and .08 in a minor, they would then only be charged with a DUIA (driving under the influence of alcohol). The exact charges here would depend on how old the minor offender is and how many times they have been caught with a DUIA charge before.
DUIA Charges for Ages 17-20
For a minor that gets charged with DUIA for the first time, they are looking at a fine of up to $500. This would also involve 20-40 hours of community service and a driver’s license suspension anywhere between 60 and 180 days.
If a minor in this age group gets charged with DUIA a second time, the fine is also up to $500. However, community service hours go up to a range from 40 to 60. The driver’s license suspension goes up to 120 days and can be for up to two years.
Minors who get charged with this three or more times also face another $500 fine and 40-60 hours of community service. The minimum driver’s license suspension moves up to 180 days with the maximum still two years.
DUIA Charges for Ages 16 and Under
Along with ages 17-20, there are separate charges for minors who are 16 years old and under. For two or fewer offenses, these minors get charged with a Class C misdemeanor. For three or more charges, it is considered delinquent conduct.
For this type of minor, a first and second DUIA offense would be the same penalties as a minor from 17-20 years old. However, the third and frequent offense is where the penalties go up for minors 16 and under.
Because of the new class of charge, minors on a third or more offense face a fine of up to $2,000 rather than $500. The other penalties remain the same for these minors.
Hire a Lawyer for DWI Charges
If you are facing DWI charges, these are the main things that you need to know about possible charges. The best way to avoid these is to not drink and drive but if you do get charged, try hard not to be a repeat offender.
Do you need representation for your Texas DWI arrest? Get in touch with a lawyer today to get started.