DWI – First offense: The criminal charges and possible penalties in Texas
DWI, or driving while intoxicated, is typically a misdemeanor on the first offense in Texas, but the potential consequences are far more serious than most misdemeanors. A conviction could carry a jail term, fines, administrative fees called “surcharges” and a possible suspended license.
Under Texas criminal law, a drunk driving charge requires that police show you were operating a vehicle, while, at the same time, your blood-alcohol measurement was .08 or higher, or you were otherwise physically and mentally impaired by alcohol or drugs.
Officers first have to establish probable cause to make the traffic stop, then develop evidence that you were driving while intoxicated in order to make an arrest. They do that by observing your actions.
For example, if you were rolling through a 45 mph zone at 25 mph, failing to stop at traffic lights, then fumbled with your wallet, admitted “having a few beers,” and botched the field sobriety test when stopped by an officer, that is probable cause for a DWI arrest.
DWI first offense charges under Texas criminal law
Drunk driving is a Class B misdemeanor on the first offense, punishable by 3 to 180 days in a county jail and/or a fine of not more than $2,000. However, even for a first offense, the charge increases under certain conditions:
As of 9/1/15, you can get an ignition interlock device installed in your car immediately to avoid any license loss for a BAC result between .08 and .15.
However, even for a first offense, the charge increases under certain conditions:
- DWI with a minor – Driving while intoxicated when you have a child under 15 in the vehicle is a state jail felony, punishable by 180 days to 2 years in a state jail and/or a fine of not more than $10,000.
- DWI assault – Seriously injuring another person while driving drunk is a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000.
- DWI manslaughter – Killing another person while drunk driving is a second-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000.
Sentencing for First Offense Drunk Driving in Texas
If convicted of DWI first offense, you are going to do at least the mandatory three days in jail – six if you had an open container when stopped – unless given probation. Fortunately, community supervision is a very likely option in many misdemeanor drunk driving cases.
The judge has the choice of giving you community service as part of a plea deal or trial conviction, or the jury can sentence you to community service if the case goes to trial. The jury also has the option of recommending that your driver’s license not be suspended.
But community supervision on DWI charges can come with several additional stipulations, including these three:
- Rehab evaluation – You will be required to get an evaluation from a state-approved drug and alcohol counselor to determine whether you have an addiction and what treatment may be necessary to deal with it. You may then be required to go through rehab.
- DWI education program – You will be required to attend an approved 12-hour course on alcohol and drunk driving within 180 days of receiving probation. If you don’t take the course, your license will be revoked, and you won’t be able to get it back until you complete the program.
- Ignition interlock device – If your blood-alcohol was .15 or more, you will be required to put a device on your vehicle that will test your breath each time you try to start the vehicle. The device won’t allow the vehicle to start if it detects alcohol. The judge can also require this, at his discretion, even if your measurement was under .15.
Second offense? See my 2nd offense DWI penalties page.
Texas DWI means a suspended license and fees
Perhaps more painful than the criminal penalties are the potential civil consequences of an arrest for DWI first offense. They run independently of the criminal charges, and can be expensive and affect your ability to drive.
However, you can maintain your ability to drive after a DWI if you agree to an ignition interlock device in your car. This law passed in 2015. You have to pay for it, and comply with the terms. But anyone with a DWI conviction and a BAC result under .15 can do this and avoid the hard suspension.
What if I don’t want an interlock, or can’t get one, because I drive a company vehicle?
If you do not accept the interlock, you’re going to get a suspended license if you register above .08 on the breath or blood test, refuse to take the test, or are convicted of DWI first offense.
An administrative license revocation will begin 40 days after you receive notice – usually from the arresting officer – and lasts at least 90 days if you have not had a DWI in the past 10 years. These suspensions are automatic upon refusal or failure of a blood-alcohol test unless you request a hearing.
Once you receive notice of a pending administrative suspension, you have 15 days to request a hearing to save your license. The hearing will be conducted by the Texas Office of Administrative Hearings, usually in the county where you were arrested.
The administrative hearing judge will determine whether the officer had probable cause to stop and arrest you and whether your blood alcohol was above the legal limit. If the judge decides in your favor, your license is returned. If not, the suspension goes through. It is lifted if you are acquitted of the charge.
A driver’s license suspension upon conviction is automatic, takes effect by order of the judge within 30 days of conviction and can range from 90 days to one year for a first offense. You will have to pay $125 to get your license reinstated once the suspension is over.
Then, there is the DWI surcharge from the Texas Department of Transportation. The state Driver Responsibility Program assesses a fee of $1,000 a year for three years for anyone convicted of DWI first offense, and $2,000 on the first offense for a blood-alcohol concentration of .16 or higher.
If you don’t pay the annual fee within 30 days of receiving the notice, your license will be revoked.
Will a DWI conviction show up on a background check?
In most cases, yes. However, as of 9/1/17, it is possible to get most convictions sealed after 2 years. Please see my DWI record seal post for more details on eligibility.
Get Help with your Drunk Driving Case
Because of the severity of the effects a conviction for DWI first offense can have on your life, you should not try to face these charges without a criminal defense attorney. We can help you defend yourself against an accusation of drunk driving.
We may be able to get the case dismissed by arguing that the officer did not have probable cause to make the DWI stop, or that the officer failed to properly administer the field sobriety tests. We might also be able to challenge the accuracy of the breath test since many officers don’t have the proper training to use and maintain the machine.
And, even if we are unable to beat your DWI first offense case, we can help negotiate a plea deal, possibly to a lesser charge that could save you from a driver’s license suspension and excessive fees.