You may know that Texas's penalties for a DWI conviction can be steep. But what happens if the police also charge you with a serious traffic violation like running a red light or reckless driving? Can this increase your fines or jail time if the court convicts you of the DWI? In this article, we'll discuss some of the most common questions our clients have when arrested for DWI, along with serious traffic infractions.
Driving While Intoxicated in Texas
You may face a charge for DWI in Texas if you are driving in a public place while intoxicated. However, the Texas definition of “intoxicated” can be broad. You may be “intoxicated” under our penal code if:
- Your blood alcohol content is .08% or higher, .04% or higher if you hold a commercial driver's license, or
- If you no longer have the normal use of your mental or physical faculties.
So, the police can arrest you for DWI even if your BAC is below the legal limit if they believe you don't have the normal use of your faculties. This is a subjective determination of whether you are intoxicated.
The DWI Stop & Reasonable Suspicion
While it may seem like the police can pull you over whenever they want, that's not the case. They can't pull you over because they don't like the color of your car or your “I love cats” bumper sticker. The police must have reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime to pull you over for a traffic stop. “Reasonable suspicion” exists when an objective person would believe that someone is engaged in illegal behavior, given the facts and circumstances of the situation. Any potential crime will qualify for reasonable suspicion to make a stop, including minor traffic violations. However, you shouldn't automatically pay an accompanying traffic ticket without first talking to an experienced DWI lawyer. Pleading guilty to a traffic ticket could impact your DWI defense and your lawyer's ability to challenge whether the police had reasonable suspicion to pull you over in the first place.
Serious Traffic Violations and DWI
While most minor traffic violations may seem insignificant compared to the possible penalties for a DWI, some serious infractions can result in significant fines and penalties. For example, if the police initially pull you over because you're driving at a high rate of speed, texting, and driving, weaving in and out of traffic, or driving the wrong way down the road, you may face a charge for reckless driving in addition to a DWI. Reckless driving is a broad statute in Texas that means driving with “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” Tex. Transp. Code § 545.401 (1995). A conviction for reckless driving is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine.
Similarly, driving with a suspended license carries serious penalties in Texas. It is typically a Class C Misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500. But driving with a suspended license becomes a Class B Misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail if your license was suspended because of a DWI conviction. While you can face additional penalties for traffic violations along with your DWI, Texas law doesn't expressly increase your DWI penalties because of a serious traffic infraction.
However, it's important to remember that the penalties for a DWI conviction fall in a range, including jail time and fines. A first DWI is a Class B Misdemeanor in Texas, punishable by up to six months in jail and up to a $2,000 fine. But if you're also charged with a serious traffic offense, the court might be inclined to ensure your sentence falls on the heavier side of the permissible range of punishments. That's why you need an expert in DWI law to help you every step of the way.
Hire an Expert in Texas DWI Law
If you're facing a DWI and serious traffic charges in Texas, you shouldn't handle this alone. Pleading guilty to a traffic violation that was the basis for your DWI stop could impact your DWI defense in court. You need an expert in DWI defense to protect your rights from the beginning. Attorney Doug Murphy is an expert in both Texas DWI Defense
and Criminal Defense Law, holding Texas board certifications in both these specialties. Moreover, U.S. News and World Report recently named Doug to their list of Best Lawyers in America for 2023 Houston DWI defense. Find out how he can help you. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm online or give them a call at 713-229-8333 to schedule your consultation.