Yes, the crimes of DWI and public intoxication in Texas are very different. Specifically, the statutory definitions of the term “intoxicated” are not equal in regard to the two charges. The DWI intoxication definitions (loss of normal mental or physical faculties and/or BAC .08 or more) require a lesser measure of intoxication than does public intoxication (PI). You are “intoxicated” for purposes of PI when you are a danger to either yourself or others.
In addition, police officers usually video DWI suspects, and as a person holding a driver’s license, you have conditionally pre-agreed to take either a breath or a blood test (this is implied consent), upon request, after your arrest for DWI. No such agreement or videotape procedure exists for public intoxication in Texas.
Finally, the punishments for DWI, which are discussed in another section, and PI are different. Specifically, PI is in the lowest category for criminal offenses; it is a Class C misdemeanor which carries with it the possibility of a fine up to $500 – no incarceration may be assessed upon conviction for this type of misdemeanor.
Here is how the Texas Penal Code reads for Public Intoxication in Texas:
Sec. 49.02. PUBLIC INTOXICATION. (a) A person commits an offense if the person appears in a public place while intoxicated to the degree that the person may endanger the person or another.
(a-1) For the purposes of this section, a premises licensed or permitted under the Alcoholic Beverage Code is a public place.
(b) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that the alcohol or other substance was administered for therapeutic purposes and as a part of the person’s professional medical treatment by a licensed physician.
(c) Except as provided by Subsection (e), an offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor.
(d) An offense under this section is not a lesser included offense under Section 49.04.
(e) An offense under this section committed by a person younger than 21 years of age is punishable in the same manner as if the minor committed an offense to which Section 106.071, Alcoholic Beverage Code, applies.