Difference Between a DUI and DWI in Texas

Each state has its own acronyms it uses for drinking while intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. These acronyms include DUIL (driving under the influence of liquor), DWI (driving while intoxicated), OMVI (operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated), DUI (driving under the influence), OWI (operating while intoxicated), and OUI (operating under the influence). Each state may use one or more of these acronyms. In Texas, DWI and DUI are used. So, you may ask: what is the difference between a DWI and DUI in Texas. The answer refers to the operator of the motor vehicle's age: whether you are a minor under the age of 17, a minor or adult under the legal drinking age of 21, or an adult over the age of 21.

DWI vs DUI in Texas

Regardless of what your age is in Texas, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) at or above 0.08 percent or to exhibit lack of control over your mental and physical faculties, meaning, for example, slurring your words or struggling to walk straight. For some persons, however, the legal limit is less than 0.08 percent: (1) persons operating a commercial vehicle and who have a commercial driver's license are not permitted to drive if their BAC level is at or above 0.04 percent, and persons under the age of 21 are not permitted to drive at all with any trace of alcohol in the system.

A DWI, known as driving while intoxicated, is an offense reserved for adults over the age of 21 but can be charged against minors or adults between the ages of 17 and 20 years. A DUI, known as driving under the influence, is an offense reserved for minors under the age of 17 but it can also be filed against a person between the ages of 17 and 20 -- depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.

What is a Texas DWI?

Texas Penal Code § 49.04 outlines that you are driving while intoxicated if you are operating a motor vehicle in a public place while:

  • Lacking normal mental and/or physical faculties due to the consumption of alcohol
  • Lacking normal mental and/or physical faculties due to the consumption of a controlled substance, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, and illegal drugs, or
  • Having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more for any adult or 0.04 percent for commercial driver's license (CDL) holders.

If you are 21 years old and the officer has probable cause to believe you fall under one of the above “categories,” then you can be charged with a DWI. Probable cause can be obtained through your performance of field sobriety tests, results of a breathalyzer, or so-called results from a drug recognition expert (DRE) examination. There must be probable cause in order to be arrested for DWI.

A first-time DWI is classified as a Class B misdemeanor unless your BAC level was over 0.15 percent. Additional, if a controlled substance was involved, your DWI could be coupled with drug charges.

What is a Texas DUI?

According to Texas Penal Code § 106.041, operating a motor vehicle in a public place with “any detectable amount of alcohol in the minor's system” can result in a DUI for a minor. So, if you are 16 and just had a sip of alcohol at a party and then drive home, if that minimal amount of alcohol is detected by a breathalyzer -- or even by a police officer simply smelling the alcohol on your breath -- you can be charged with a DUI. In Texas, this policy is known as zero tolerance toward alcohol, drugs, and underage persons.

What's different about a DUI as opposed to a DWI is not just age, but the zero-tolerance law as applied to minors. To be charged with a DWI, an adult must exhibit a lack of normal use of his or her mental or physical faculties. The same is not true for a DUI. A minor does not need to demonstrate that he or she is physically or mentally impaired in any way. All that is required is a trace of alcohol or drugs on the breath.

What are the penalties in Texas for a DWI and a DUI?

The penalties vary for a conviction of a DWI and a conviction of a DUI. Regardless with which you have been charged, the penalties are tough -- among the strictest in the nation. The harsh penalties specific to a DUI are supposedly meant to deter youth from drinking and driving again. Here are the penalties for a DWI and a DUI.

What are Texas DWI penalties?

In Texas, if you are convicted of a DWI, you can anticipate some kind of jail time, fines, fees, license suspension, and possible participation in a treatment program. A first-time offense can result in:

  • Jail time. If you're charged with a DWI, you will spend a minimum of 72 hours in jail. If your DWI charge was coupled with an open container in your vehicle charge, then jail increases from 72 hours to six days. Seventy-two hours is the minimum you will spend behind bars -- if convicted, you can be sentenced to up to 180 days in the county jail. That's 6 months of your life, and that means missing out of school, work, family life, among other things, which also means messing up your employment prospects and other important things that matter to quality living.
  • Fines. A first-time DWI offender can be fined up to $2,000. The amount you must pay will be dependent on the facts of your case.
  • Fees. You could face an annual fee of $1,000 to $2,000 for three years. This fee is paid to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and is required if you want to maintain your driver's license. The amount you must pay will be dependent on the facts of your case.
  • License suspension. A first-time DWI offender will have his or her driver's license suspended for a minimum of 90 days but up to 1 year. If you test positive for alcohol or drugs in a blood or breath test, that results in an administrative automatic suspension of your driver's license. If you initially refused to submit to a breathalyzer test, the suspension could be longer. This suspension is separate from the criminal process. You can, however, request a hearing within 15 days of receipt of the notice of suspension (a pink paper usually provided to you at the time your driver's license is confiscated and you are arrested).
  • Programs. Depending on the circumstances of your case, a first-time offender could be ordered to attend classes or participate in an alcohol or drug program. These programs are supposed to address the behavior that caused your DWI in the first place. That said, these programs can be strict, time-consuming, and expensive.

In addition to these penalties, you could also be ordered to probation or community service. These penalties increase with each prior conviction, particularly the amount of time you spend in jail or prison and the amount you will have to pay in fines and fees.

What are Texas DUI penalties?

Texas DUI penalties are less severe than DWI penalties, but they are harsh enough for a kid. These penalties include:

  • Jail time. A first-time offender does not need to worry about jail time, but if you are charged with future DUIs, you can expect it.
  • Fines. First-time offenders can receive a fine for up to $500. Though that may not sound as bad as $2,000 -- you are a kid, and $500 may be what you earn in a month if you work part-time. Considering your socio-economic status, $500 can be a burden to you or your parents.
  • License suspension. Like DWI cases, you lose your driving privileges, and this is through an administrative process, not the criminal court -- though in DWI cases, if convicted, your license suspension could be prolonged via a sentencing order. For a first-time offender, your driver's license will be suspended for 60 days.
  • Programs. Like a DWI conviction, you could be ordered to participate in drug or alcohol programs meant to correct your drug or alcohol problem -- if any.
  • Community service. You may have to complete 20 - 40 hours of community service for a first-time offense. Second or subsequent offenses can result in up to 60 hours of community service.

Though these penalties of fines and community service may be less severe than DWI penalties, the lasting consequences of a DUI can be just as severe as a DWI. A criminal record can lead to problems for a kid, from issues with obtaining financial aid if you intend to go to college to housing if you intend to live on your own or on a college campus to find a good job after high school.

Which is worse in Harris County TX: a DWI or DUI?

Which is worse, a DWI or DUI in Harris County, Texas, is really dependent on what you mean by worse. Is it worse for your career? Is it worse in terms of penalties? Is it worse for your reputation? Is it worse financially?

All in all, a DWI is worse, especially if it is a second or subsequent offense. You risk more jail or prison time, higher fines, and a criminal record that cannot be expunged. Fortunately -- in terms of collateral consequences of your DWI, DUI, and accompany criminal record, for first-time offenders, the law has changed recently and you may now be eligible for expunction. That means once you have paid your so-called debt to society and successfully obtain an expunction through your attorney's efforts, you will no longer have a criminal record popping up after a criminal background check. You also no longer have to disclose to a future employer that you were convicted of a crime or to disclose it to a bank when you apply for a loan or to otherwise disclose it when requested to reveal a commission of a crime.

How long does a DWI or DUI stay on your record in Texas?

Once upon a time, a DWI conviction remained on your record forever in Texas unless you were entitled to or eligible for an expunction. An expunction -- which means you never have to disclose your DWI to anyone or any entity ever -- is only permitted under limited circumstances, like when your case is dismissed or you were acquitted at trial. Expunction is reserved for those cases where you were charged but not convicted of a DWI. The exception is a DUI. If you were a minor and you were convicted of a DUI by having less than 0.08 percent alcohol blood content, you may be eligible for expunction.

The good news for DWI convictions, the law on nondisclosures has been updated to include DWIs in limited situations. Nondisclosure allows most first-time DWI offenders to have their conviction sealed so that it is not available to the general public. Your record is not destroyed but rather is hidden from view. Though your record still exists, you do not have to disclose it on job applications, mortgage loan applications, school applications, or the like.

Smart, Aggressive Board Certified DWI Defense in Harris County TX

Do you want the best DWI or DUI defense in Harris County, Texas? If so, then you need a criminal defense attorney with proven success in DWI defense. Doug Murphy has committed the last two decades to DWI defense. He is one of only two attorneys in all of Texas to possess Board Certification in both criminal law and DWI defense simultaneously -- and he has done so for many years. He is a DWI defense attorney as much as he is a trial attorney. In fact, he treats each DWI case as though it will go to trial. This approach sets your case up for the best outcome in your unique situation.

If you have been arrested for either a DWI or DUI, you know the consequences of a conviction can have immediate and long-lasting effects on the quality of your life. Don't waste time deliberating which attorney to call; contact Doug Murphy today. He will review your case. He will provide insight and outline your options. And he will ensure you that no case is not defensible and that this principle applies to your case, too.

Contact Us Today

If you are facing DWI or other criminal charges in Texas, contact our office today to discuss your case, so we can begin working on your defense. Please provide only your personal email and cell phone number so that we can immediately and confidentially communicate with you.