A first-offense DWI in Texas carries its own set of consequences – and it can get complicated. That is why Houston drivers need to understand everything there is to know about the laws, the contributing factors to a car accident if one results from drunk driving, and the possible criminal charges that can be brought against them for driving under the influence.
The first thing to know: If you are arrested for a DWI in Texas, the two types of cases that may be filed against a suspected intoxicated driver are civil and criminal. Intoxicated, according to Texas Penal Code 49.04, is defined as:
- Having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher.
- The driver not having normal mental or physical control of a vehicle because of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, or a combination of two or more of those substances.
What are the Possible Consequences of a First-Offense DWI in Texas?
Class B Misdemeanor DWI
In Texas, drivers who are arrested for a first-offense DWI, are usually charged with a Class B Misdemeanor. These drivers may face serious consequences, such as:
- A driver’s license suspension for one year
- A fine of up to $2,000
- A jail sentence from three to 180 days
All cases, however, vary, of course. Several factors evaluated by the Texas Department of Public Safety and criminal courts may make these penalties even harsher, including but not limited to:
- If there were any prior alcohol-related offenses within the last 10 years
- If the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.16, which doubles the fines and jail time, and increases the charge to Class A Misdemeanor
- If the driver had a child passenger in the vehicle
- If the driver was under the age of 21
- If there was an open container of alcohol in the vehicle
How Can a Criminal Defense Lawyer Defend You Against a DWI First-Offense in Texas?
It is vital for Texas drivers charged with a first-offense DWI to have an experienced criminal defense attorney on their side as soon as possible after the event, as the first line of defense is to sift through the evidence proven (or not) by breath or blood tests and field sobriety tests.
A criminal defense lawyer in Texas may begin an investigation by asking questions like this about the case:
- Did the officer read the driver their Miranda rights?
- Did the officer who arrested the driver have a justifiable reason to pull the driver over?
- Is the evidence gathered from the breath or blood tests inadmissible?
- What factors influenced the quality of the results of the blood or breath tests?
What Procedures and Rules Apply to Breath and Blood Alcohol Testing in Texas?
Texans have a constitutional right to refuse a blood test, but this refusal could be used against the driver in any future prosecutions, which could also include potential license suspension or a warrant to retrieve their blood.
It is recommended to take a breathalyzer test over a blood test. Why?
- With a blood test, law enforcement always takes two vials, and the state will argue that the second is for the criminal defense attorney to test if they do not trust the result.
- The prosecution can test the driver’s blood for any drugs and medication in their system, which could result in a combined substance DWI.
- A jury trusts blood test results more often than breath test results.
- Many municipalities will prohibit drivers from entering a dismissal program if they refused a breath test.
- There may be issues with the maintenance of the breathalyzer, making the evidence potentially later inadmissible.
Texas drivers are required, however, to give blood during no-refusal weekends (which are not necessarily just on holiday weekends), which means that, during this time, the state’s Supreme Court allows police officers to draw a driver’s blood without their consent based on probable cause. If a driver resists, officers can lawfully force the blood retrieval by any means necessary.
How Reliable are Field Sobriety Tests and How Can They be Challenged?
Texans have a right to refuse field sobriety testing, but they may still be arrested for a DWI and taken to the police station to then submit a breath or blood test there. Field sobriety tests, however, are required to be given in proper conditions and without prejudice, which, depending on the case, can often be challenged if:
- There were poor testing conditions, like poor lighting, uneven pavement, or distractions.
- An inexperienced or improperly trained police officer administered the test.
- The field sobriety test was not fairly graded.
- Any physical impairments, like poor eyesight or walking handicap, impaired the test results.
- There are any inconsistencies between the video taken during the test and the officer’s testimony.
- There are any violations of a driver’s rights, including but not limited to failing to read their Miranda Rights, which can make statements obtained inadmissible.
Another way to challenge DWI first offense in Texas test results is to establish the time of intoxication versus the time of the DWI accident or arrest. Also important is determining if the driver was at fault for an accident (if applicable) or if the crash was unavoidable.
What Are the Administrative Penalties for A DWI First Offense in Texas?
In addition to criminal penalties for a first offense DWI, Texas drivers may also be subject to a variety of administrative penalties, previously known as Administrative License Revocation (ALR) penalties, that could suspend a driver’s license even longer.
This civil administrative process will ultimately suspend or disqualify a driver’s license if someone is arrested for a DWI when they:
- Refuse to take or complete a blood or breath test
- Have a blood or breath test with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher when driving a non-commercial or commercial motor vehicle
How Long Does a DWI Stay on a Criminal Record in Texas?
Although arrest and disposition records in Texas are permanent, there are two options to possibly clean them up:
- DWI Expunctions, if the DWI charges did not result in a final conviction.
- Petition for Nondisclosure, or the Texas Second Chance Law, which allows certain drivers with a DWI to seal the record of their arrest and conviction.
It is imperative to work with a skilled DWI defense lawyer who can help after you’ve been arrested or charged with DWI in Texas. Do not let the prosecution control the narrative – secure an advocate to help defend your case.