Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a pervasive problem nationwide. Like other criminal offenses, Texas takes a strict approach to prosecuting those arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI).
Arrests, charges, and convictions for DWI in Texas carry significant criminal penalties. In addition, DWI convictions can create substantial collateral consequences, impacting many aspects of your livelihood, family relationships, and economic opportunities.
If you are facing DWI charges in Texas, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Austin Hagee Law Firm by calling (210) 964-4684.
A San Antonio DWI lawyer at our South Texas criminal defense firm can help get your first DWI in Texas dismissed or reduced.
First DWI Offense in Texas
A first offense DWI in Texas is classified as a Class ‘B’ misdemeanor. This means that if you are convicted of your first DWI offense, you will likely face a fine of up to $2,000 and a potential jail sentence of up to 180 days in a county jail.
Additionally, you may have your driver’s license suspended for a period, and you might be required to attend mandatory alcohol education programs or community service.
It’s important to consult with a legal professional to understand the specifics of your case and explore possible legal options.
Texas’ DWI law prohibits motorists from operating a motor vehicle in the following situations:
- When they have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more, or
- While the person is intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.
Under the law, people are intoxicated if they lack the normal use of mental or physical faculties due to consuming alcohol, drugs, or any other substance.
Operating the Vehicle
Many mistakenly think that you must actually be on the road driving your car to get a DWI. This is understandable, since the law states that you cannot operate your vehicle while impaired.
However, Texas law broadly defines “operating a vehicle” in the context of DWI cases. Operating a vehicle is not specifically defined in the law, but the highest court in the state—the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals—has set precedent that clarifies the concept in several cases.
Courts look at a variety of factors to determine if you took action that impacted your vehicle’s functioning in a way that would enable you to use it.
Any action that is more than a preparation to use the car can qualify as “operating” for DWI purposes. For instance, a court would not likely consider opening the door of your car to be operating your vehicle.
However, sitting in your car—whether in the driver’s or passenger’s seat—and turning the engine on to use the air conditioning would likely count as operating the vehicle.
There have been some interesting operation exceptions laid out in Texas case law, but these exceptions are fact specific and need analysis by an attorney.
Penalties for First-Time DWI Offenders
Many first-time DWI offenders in Texas may not realize the extent of DWI charges. First-time DWI offenses are usually class B misdemeanors and carry the follow penalties:
- fines of up to $2,000;
- 3 to 180 days in jail;
- license suspension of 90 days to 1 year; and
- an annual surcharge of up to $2,000 for three years to retain your driver’s license.
The judge might send you to jail or put you on probation. If you get probation, you might be sentenced to up to 200 hours of community service and have to participate in an alcohol and drug education program.
Also, certain factors can increase the penalties a first-time DWI offender faces. For instance, if you had a BAC above .15%, the prosecutor will likely charge you with a Class A misdemeanor.
This means you could face up to a $4,000 fine, and you might need to pay for and install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle—in addition to the possible one year in county jail. Another factor that can increase your sentence is if you had a child in the car with you.
What Is the Penalty for DWI with a Child Passenger?
The law provides enhanced punishments for those driving a vehicle while intoxicated with a passenger under the age of 15.
Under Texas Penal Code § 49.045, DWI Child Passenger is a state jail felony, punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility and up to a $10,000 fine.
Further, you may face additional punishments if you have prior felony or DWI convictions, if your BAC was greater than 0.15%, or if anyone was injured or property was damaged in an accident.
Possible First DWI Defense in San Antonio
Inaccurate alcohol concentration — Chemical testing may be flawed if materials and equipment is not handled and used properly.
Further, behaviors such as burping can increase the alcohol level in your breath and provide an inaccurate reading. Blood tests are also not infallible.
No probable cause — Police must have probable cause to stop your vehicle in the first place. If you are driving too slowly, have tinted windows, or swerve within your lane, law enforcement may not have probable cause to arrest you.
Police procedure errors — DWI arrests must be handled properly by law enforcement officers. If police fail to read you your Miranda rights, fail to observe you for 15 minutes before issuing a breath test, or fail to record certification tests of breath machines, your case may be thrown out.
Field sobriety test problems — Police officers love using field sobriety tests to determine if a driver is intoxicated. However, the problem with these tests is that they are well known to be inaccurate.
If the driver in question is elderly, injured, or suffering from a disease or disorder, they may be unable to abide by an officer’s instructions to raise their hand, stand on one leg, etc.
Testing issues — Lastly, there may be problems with testing — errors in administering the test to you, issues with how blood samples are handled, or improper calibration of breath testing machinery.
In Texas, a DWI conviction is a life-changer. However, with an experienced defense attorney in your corner, you can increase your chances of having the charges reduced or dropped.
Let Former Prosecutors Protect Your Future
Getting charged with a DWI in Texas can change your life forever and have long-lasting consequences.
If you find yourself facing a DWI arrest in San Antonio, Texas, and haven’t yet hired a skilled San Antonio DWI attorney experienced in first-time DWI defense, it is important that you do so as soon as possible.
A DWI conviction can seriously affect your personal and professional life. At Austin Hagee Law Firm, PLLC, we fight aggressively to defend clients who are charged with a DWI in Texas.
Whether you are arrested for a first-time DWI or subsequent offense, our team of experienced San Antonio criminal defense lawyers are ready to fight for your rights.
Texas DWI FAQS:
What Can a DWI Be Reduced to in Texas?
An experienced DWI attorney can work with clients to get their charges dropped or reduced. If there is a legal basis, the defense attorney will negotiate with the prosecutor or petition the court to reduce or throw out the charges.
In some cases, a defense attorney can apply for deferred adjudication. However, the likelihood of success largely depends on the facts of the case and the skills and experience of your defense attorney.
What Happens If I Refuse a Breathalyzer Test?
Texas has an implied consent law, which means that you agree to consent to take a breathalyzer when arrested on suspicion of DWI.
While officers cannot require you to submit to chemical testing without a warrant (which they must obtain from a judge), there are administrative penalties that come along with a refusal.
For a first-time refusal, your driver’s license will be suspended for 180 days. And, if you have one or more license suspensions from prior DWI or DUI convictions, the license suspension will be for two years.
Can I Be Charged with a DWI if I Refuse Chemical Testing?
Yes, under Texas law, driving under the influence is defined as being “intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place.” Certainly, chemical testing is one way to establish intoxication; however, it is not the only way.
In fact, in many cases, prosecutors will bring charges even if law enforcement officers were unable to or failed to obtain chemical test results.
To do so, prosecutors rely on other evidence of intoxication, such as the presence of alcohol in the vehicle, the smell of alcohol on a driver’s breath, erratic driving, or statements made by the driver.