What is DWI and its potential punishment?

DWI is a criminal offense which prohibits you from operating a motor vehicle in a public place while “intoxicated” is defined as having lost the normal use of either mental or physical faculties, or having a .08 alcohol level in either your breath, your blood, or your urine. The DWI statute does not require you to be “drunk,” rather, it only requires that you to be “intoxicated” to be charged with DWI. When considering DWI punishment, we have to discuss the loss of normal mental/physical faculties must be caused by alcohol, drugs, a controlled substance, some other impairing substance, or a combination thereof in order to violate the DWI statute. Read more about the difference between impaired driving and drunk driving.

Breakdown of DWI Punishment by Offenses

  • A first-offense conviction for DWI can be a class A or B misdemeanor depending on your blood or breath alcohol level, with the threshold number being .15.
  • It is a class B misdemeanor if your blood or breath alcohol concentration is less than .15, and punishment includes the possibility of a fine not to exceed $2,000 and/or a jail sentence from 3 days to 180 days, as well as a driver’s license suspension of 90 days to 365 days.
  • If your breath or blood alcohol concentration is .15 or more, the punishment increases to a class A misdemeanor, which is a fine not to exceed $4,000 and a term in the county jail not to exceed 1 year.
  • If there is an open container found in the vehicle at the time of offense, the DWI punishment require minimum jail sentence is enhanced from 3 days to 6 days. Also upon conviction, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) assesses an annual tax (called a surcharge) of $1,000-$2,000 per year for a period of 3 years in order for you to retain your driver’s license.
  • For a first-offense DWI charge, bond conditions are a matter of the court’s discretion. However, if you are charged with a subsequent offense of DWI in Texas or a first offense of intoxicated assault or manslaughter in Texas, you are required to install a vehicle ignition interlock device on your car and are not allowed to operate a motor vehicle that is not equipped with an interlock device. This interlock device determines the presence of alcohol in your breath. If the device detects a certain level of alcohol, the vehicle is temporarily disabled.

Some judges may decide that justice would not be served by installing an interlock device on your vehicle, and can excuse its installation, while others may require that you install an interlock device on your car – even if you are a first offender. In such circumstances, the law allows for you to operate a company vehicle without an interlock and an accompanying work letter. Additionally, the court will order you to abstain from alcohol use and use of controlled substances without a prescription. The court may enforce this by ordering random drug testing.

DWI punishment in Texas

Most DWI punishment as a consequence of convictions result in probation, which means your jail sentence is suspended, you’ll be fined, or your driver’s license will be suspended by the court. Said another way, upon conviction, the judge pronounces a jail sentence punishment, a fine sentence, and a driver’s license suspension, but suspends that jail sentence and places the person on “community supervision” (also known as probation) instead.

Example:

Judge Justice says, “Mr. Defendant, your sentence is 180 days in jail, a $2,000 fine, and a year’s suspension of your driver’s license.”

DWI Defendant replies, “Holy cow, I can’t believe it, I’m going to jail!”

But all of the sudden the judge says, “However, I’m going to probate this sentence. Your jail is probated for 1 year, $1,500 of your fine is probated, and your driver’s license suspension is also probated.”

In layman’s terms, this means that if the defendant behaves for 1 year, he will:

  • NOT have to do the 180 days in jail.
  • Pay only $500 of the fine.
  • NOT have his driver’s license taken from him.

“Wait,” you say, “what does ‘behave’ mean?”

It means that the judge has offered the defendant a “deal” he can’t refuse. This deal is a contract between the defendant (you) and the court, and the contractual terms are simple: The judge promises not to put you in jail, not to make you pay the entire fine, and not to take away your driver’s license.

In exchange, if you agree to the probation as a result of your DWI punishment, you are agreeing generally to do the following:

  • Report once a month to a probation officer.
  • Not commit any further crimes during the term of probation.
  • Pay a monthly supervisory fee to the probation office (approximately $40).
  • Perform a specified number of hours (approximately 24 to 48) of communityservice (volunteer work to benefit the community) during the term of yourprobation.
  • Attend DWI education classes dealing with the effects of alcohol or featuringvictims of DWI-related tragedies (VIP Program).
  • Abstain from consuming alcohol for the term of your probation.
  • Pay your non-probated fines and court costs.
  • Submit to a breath test by law enforcement or court personnel upon request.
  • Install an alcohol ignition interlock device on your car, and only drive a carequipped with such as device (not always required).
  • Make a small donation to MADD and/or Crime Stoppers.
  • Remain within the county of your residence unless given permission by thecourt to leave it.
  • Fulfill any other requirements the court sets for you.