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How Bad Is a Texas DWI?

Texas has some of the harshest DWI laws and stiffest DWI penalties in the nation. How bad is a Texas DWI? How bad is a DWI in Houston? Bad, but how bad depends on what happened in your DWI arrest and how you handle the DWI charges. You could lose your freedom for a short or long time. Depending on what happened and what you do about it, you could also lose your child custody, driver's license, CDL, professional license, vocational certification, and even your job and career. Again, depending on what happened and what you do about it, you could also lose your visa or other immigration status and face deportation, if you are not already a U.S. citizen. A DWI conviction can also complicate your life in other ways around things like job applications and promotions, credit applications, apartment applications, and even relationships with friends and family.

But presuming that your DWI arrest has already happened, how bad your particular DWI will end up being now depends on how you handle your DWI charges. Educating yourself is the beginning of improving your DWI charge's outcome. In the case of a DWI charge, what you don't know can hurt you. And the best thing you can learn about a DWI charge is that a charge is not a conviction. Too many individuals facing DWI charges assume that their conviction is a forgone conclusion. That is not the case. With aggressive defense representation from a skilled and experienced Texas DWI defense attorney, you may well be able to beat your DWI charges. Plenty of defendants facing serious Texas DWI charges do, when their Houston DWI lawyer raises and strategically advocates the right defenses. How bad is a Texas DWI? It depends, but you can make it a whole lot better by choosing the right defense lawyer for your specific situation.

How Texas Defines DWI Crime

To appreciate how bad a Texas DWI charge is, and how your retained DWI attorney may be able to help you successfully defend it, first consider how Texas defines its DWI charges.

Texas's Broad Definition of Intoxication

Texas DWI charges run the gamut from relatively ordinary misdemeanors all the way to serious felony DWI charges. But Texas DWI charges also have certain elements in common. First, prosecutors must generally prove that the defendant was intoxicated as Texas law defines it. Texas Penal Code Section 49.01 defines intoxication in either one of two ways. Intoxication can include "not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body." Or intoxicated can mean "having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more." Other Texas law lowers the 0.08 level to 0.04 for a commercial driver's license. Notice, though, that you don't have to show any specific level of blood alcohol or drugs if police have evidence that you don't have your normal faculties because of drugs or alcohol. That's one way in which Texas DWI laws are bad. You can even suffer a Texas DWI for prescription medication.

Texas's Broad Definition of Motor Vehicle Operation

But Texas's broad intoxication definition isn't the only way that Texas DWI laws are strict or harsh. Texas Penal Code Section 49.04 further requires that the defendant must have operated the motor vehicle in a public place. But Texas case law has defined a public place to include private property. Texas law also defines a motor vehicle to include trucks, motorcycles, and even off-road vehicles like go-karts and golf carts. Texas Penal Code Section 49.07 even extends Texas DWI charges to include operating watercraft, aircraft, and amusement rides. And Texas law defines the operation of a motor vehicle to mean not just driving down the road but also to affect the vehicle's functioning enabling its use. You could thus potentially face a Texas DWI for sleeping behind the wheel of a running vehicle on your own private property. Texas DWI crimes extend far and wide, making them among the harshest in the nation.

The Types of Texas DWI Charges

The type of Texas DWI crime with which authorities charge you also goes a long way toward determining how bad a Texas DWI crime is. A first-offense DWI charge not involving any enhancing factor is a Texas Class B misdemeanor. But a blood alcohol result of .15 or higher raises the offense level to a Class A misdemeanor. Second-offense DWIs are also Class A misdemeanors, but a third-offense DWI raises the offense level to a third-degree felony. A DWI with a child passenger raises the ordinary misdemeanor charge to a state jail felony. A DWI causing serious bodily injury warrants a third-degree felony intoxication assault charge, enhanced to a second-degree felony for injuring on-duty emergency personnel. A DWI causing death brings a second-degree felony intoxication manslaughter charge. DWI crimes that cause property damage can add a Class C misdemeanor reckless damage charge on top of these other DWI crimes. This list describes the more common Texas DWI charges, although not all of them.

The Offense Levels of Texas DWI Charges

Any of the above Texas DWI offenses, from a Class C misdemeanor all the way to a second-degree felony, can be bad, depending on the sentence and your circumstances. Any Texas DWI conviction can bring serious collateral consequences, even if the offense level is not very high, and even if the sentencing judge imposes a light sentence, even one without any jail time. But Texas law assigns progressively more serious punishments to the above offense levels. And the higher the offense level, the more likely you will suffer serious punishment if convicted of the charged DWI crime. In other words, your Texas DWI charge could be anything from bad to very, very bad, depending on the offense level, as these progressive punishments show:

  • Class C misdemeanors can bring a fine of up to $500.
  • Class B misdemeanors can bring up to 180 days in jail, a $2,000 fine, and supervised release.
  • Class A misdemeanors can bring seventy-two hours to twelve months in jail, a fine up to $6,000, and two years of supervised release.
  • State jail felonies can bring from 180 days up to two years in jail, a fine of up to $10,000, and an extended period of supervised release.
  • Third-degree felonies can bring two to ten years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, and an extended period of supervised release.
  • Second-degree felonies can bring two to twenty years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, and an extended period of supervised release.

Texas Administrative DWI Sanctions

How bad your Texas DWI charge could be if prosecutors are able to convict you for the charged crime may well depend on the above offense level of your DWI crime. But incarceration, fines, and supervised release aren't the only potential punishments. Indeed, whether you suffer any jail time or not, administrative sanctions may make your Texas DWI crime bad or worse, depending on those sanctions and your particular circumstances.

Texas DWI charges routinely lead to both criminal and administrative proceedings. After your arrest on a DWI charge, police will likely confiscate your driver's license and give you a temporary license, requiring you to request and attend an Administrative License Revocation hearing if you hope to avoid license suspension. Driver's license suspension is a common consequence of a Texas DWI conviction, and it can, depending on your sentence and circumstances, be worse than the criminal punishments. If you retain your driver's license, authorities may restrict it for work, medical visits, or other essential activities only.

Authorities may also require you to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle at your own expense. The devices can also be surprisingly dangerous, according to a study the New York Times cites. Interlock devices typically require the driver to blow into the device in repeated tests after the initial ignition-start test. These rolling tests mean that drivers may have to blow into the device while driving, even at high speeds, creating a distraction hazard. Another administrative sanction is that you may also have to complete the DWI Education Program, DWI Intervention Program, or if you are a minor, the Alcohol Education Program for Minors.

Collateral DWI Consequences

Plainly, a Texas DWI conviction can be quite bad, depending on the offense level, administrative sanctions, and how those punishments and sanctions affect your particular circumstances. And by affecting your particular circumstances, we mean that Texas DWI convictions can carry severe collateral consequences. These consequences may be collateral to the criminal sanctions just discussed, but they are at the heart of your life's interest.

Children and Family Consequences

Those other potential bad consequences, beyond criminal punishments and administrative sanctions, begin with potential effects on your children and family. If you suffer a DWI arrest, child welfare officials or the other parent of your child with whom you share custody may construe that offense as a danger to your child. If your child or another child was in your vehicle at your arrest, and your DWI charge is a felony child endangerment DWI, then your chances of losing custody of your child may increase exponentially. Losing a child over a DWI may be about as bad as things can get. Ensure that you retain the best available DWI defense lawyer so that your DWI charge doesn't destroy your family.

Professional, Business, and Trade Consequences

Another serious potential consequence of Texas DWI charges, beyond the criminal and administrative sanctions, is the potential effect on your professional, business, or trade license. Licensing officials consider criminal convictions, especially those reflecting public dangers, when evaluating fitness for professional, business, or trade practice. Not every DWI conviction affects a physician, nurse, accountant, engineer, social worker, or other licensed professional. Not every DWI conviction affects a licensed business owner or a licensed tradesperson. But many DWI convictions can lead to serious license consequences, including license suspension or revocation. Ensure that a bad DWI situation doesn't turn worse. Retain a Texas DWI attorney who is also skilled at license defense.

Other Potentially Serious Collateral Consequences

Other serious potential consequences of a Texas DWI conviction that could make a bad DWI charge much worse include your loss of a firearms license, security clearance, airport or international clearance, or visa or other immigration status. You may not foresee any problem with these special interests because they do not affect you personally. Or you may see an immediate problem with any or all of these issues because they affect your critical interests, privileges, and rights. If, for instance, you are in the U.S. on a visa, a conviction on your DWI charge could lead to your deportation. If, for another example, your employment depends on a firearms license or security clearance, conviction on your DWI charge could lead to the loss of your job and career. The point is that Texas DWI charges can carry very bad consequences well beyond the criminal and administrative sanctions, depending on your peculiar circumstances.

Defending a Texas DWI Charge

While a Texas DWI charge is always bad news, the good news is that a DWI charge is not the same as a DWI conviction, and it's a DWI conviction that carries by far the greater price. Don't let any of the above bad news discourage you from retaining a skilled and experienced Texas DWI attorney to help you fight the DWI charge. Just because things could get bad with a Texas DWI charge doesn't mean that you should give up the fight. Indeed, the opposite is true: the high stakes of a Texas DWI charge should compel you to put your best possible defense forward to minimize the potential impacts. A little DWI defense may help. More DWI defense may take you a long way. The best DWI defense can take you across the finish line to your best possible outcome.

Differences Between a DWI Charge and a DWI Conviction

When you and your retained DWI defense lawyer succeed in beating the DWI charge, and thus avoiding a DWI conviction, you indeed make great gains in limiting your DWI impacts and losses. A DWI charge is simply the prosecutor's criminal court complaint containing allegations, in some cases guesses and speculation, against you. The prosecutor hasn't proven anything when simply lodging the charge in criminal court. The prosecutor's case may be weak or strong, or it may contain large holes that will prevent a conviction.

Charges can carry their own interim consequences like booking, bail, and license hearings. But when handled properly, those interim issues may have little impact, and they rarely have long-term impacts. By contrast to a DWI charge, a DWI conviction means that the prosecution has proven the elements of a DWI crime, whether by plea, bench trial, or jury trial. It's a DWI conviction, not the DWI charge, that carries the jail, fine, or other sentences. And it's more likely the DWI conviction, not the charge, that carries the administrative and other consequences.

Probability of Prevailing on a Texas DWI Defense

Texas keeps and reports statistics on DWI charges and convictions. You could look at your DWI defense as a matter of probabilities, like the draw of a card or roll of the dice. But statistics and probabilities don't tell your story. They instead only show the broadest patterns. One has to look behind the charge, dismissal, and conviction categories and numbers to see what really happened in each case.

The DWI charge matters a lot, and the evidence supporting the charge even more so. But the biggest factor can be whether the DWI defendant even retained a DWI attorney to evaluate the charges and the probability of a winning defense. Many DWI defendants simply plead guilty without any effort to retain skilled and experienced DWI representation to evaluate a defense. The probability that you will prevail on your DWI defense doesn't depend on statistics. It instead depends on you, what happened around your DWI arrest, and the skill and experience of the attorney whom you retain to help you discern and deploy your best DWI defense.

The Role of a Texas DWI Defense Attorney

Your ability to make a bad DWI situation better rather than see it turn from bad to worse doesn't just depend on what's out there, as in what happened. Instead, what your DWI defense attorney actually does is important. And when you retain skilled and experienced DWI attorney representation, you get the best defense. Your retained DWI defense lawyer may do any or all of the following things, and many other things, to improve the outcome of your DWI charges and make a much better situation out of what could have been very bad:

  • Ensure that you get out of jail on reasonable bail terms so that you can continue to lead your life while participating fruitfully in your DWI defense;
  • Help you locate and secure your impounded vehicle for your own use or for use by family members;
  • Help you request an Administrative License Revocation hearing to preserve your driver's license against automatic revocation, so that you can drive to and from work, school, medical appointments, childcare, and other essential destinations;
  • Conduct the Administrative License Revocation hearing to challenge, test, and disprove the DWI evidence, raising defenses over your DWI stop and your DWI arrest while challenging the results of any testing;
  • Appear with you at your arraignment to help you enter a not-guilty plea and understand and exercise your other legal and constitutional rights;
  • Appear with you at the preliminary examination to test and evaluate the prosecution's DWI crime evidence and seek dismissal of the DWI charge for a failure in evidence;
  • Conduct plea bargaining with the prosecutor seeking early voluntary dismissal, charge reduction, and sentence mitigation, while advising you as to the best achievable plea;
  • File and argue pretrial motions to suppress evidence that police acquired in violation of your constitutional rights, seeking dismissal when the court's suppression of that evidence leaves gaps in the prosecutor's case;
  • Challenge field sobriety tests, blood tests, breathalyzer tests, and other tests of intoxication and intoxication levels, seeking to prove that evidence inadmissible or unreliable, for court dismissal or jury acquittal;
  • Retain, prepare, and present expert witnesses on your behalf, proving your innocence while raising reasonable doubt about the prosecution's case;
  • Identify lay witnesses with helpful material information in your defense, and secure the attendance of those witnesses at trial;
  • Attend other pretrial conferences and motions so that your DWI defense is ready for trial;
  • Participate in jury selection to eliminate juror bias, prejudice, and conflict of interest, so that you have an unbiased jury of your peers;
  • Make a clear opening statement and compelling closing argument raising reasonable doubt in the prosecution's case;
  • Challenge the prosecution's evidence at trial with thorough and skilled cross-examination of prosecution witnesses;
  • Make post-trial motions and appeals as necessary to challenge any adverse decision, verdict, or judgment; and
  • Help you manage professional, business, trade, or other license proceedings, employer issues, and other collateral issues of great significance to your best outcome.

Why Other Defense Representation Increases Risks

The above discussion repeatedly emphasizes your need for skilled and experienced DWI attorney representation to keep your Texas DWI charge from going from bad to worse. You need and want your DWI situation to get better, not worse. Skilled DWI defense lawyer representation can pursue any or all of the above steps, each creating the prospect of turning your bad DWI situation around so that your DWI situation gets better. You want that light at the end of the tunnel to be the sun's rays, not an oncoming freight train. But if you were to retain an unqualified attorney, perhaps a criminal defense attorney but one who only dabbles in DWI defense, your choice of unqualified representation could indeed make your DWI situation worse.

Unqualified defense representation doesn't just mean that your defense attorney might fail to hit a miracle home run. Unqualified defense representation instead means the failure to take the dozens of critical little steps that your best DWI defense may take. Poor defense representation isn't swinging and missing a home-run pitch. It's instead more like failing by a thousand cuts. Skilled DWI lawyer representation builds the fortress brick by brick. Unqualified representation doesn't even see the bricks, often failing in any or all of these respects:

  • Leaving you in jail for failure or inability to post bond, or getting you out on unreasonable bail terms so that you can't lead your normal life and participate actively in your DWI defense;
  • Failing to help you request an Administrative License Revocation hearing, resulting in the expiration of your temporary license and revocation of your driver's license, so that you can't get to work, school, medical appointments, childcare, and other essential destinations;
  • If you do request an Administrative License Revocation hearing, failing to show up with you at that hearing or, if attending, failing to challenge the DWI evidence or raise available defenses;
  • Failing to appear with you at your arraignment, leading you to enter a guilty plea, or if you plead not guilty as you should, not helping you understand and exercise your other legal and constitutional rights;
  • Failing to request and attend the preliminary examination to test and evaluate the prosecution's DWI crime evidence and seek dismissal of the DWI charge for a failure in evidence;
  • Not conducting plea bargaining with the prosecutor, or not negotiating for the best achievable plea, and instead advising you to take the first plea the prosecution offers when better offers may be available;
  • Not filing and skillfully arguing pretrial motions to suppress evidence, even though police violations of your constitutional rights warranted the court's suppression of that evidence and dismissal of the prosecution's case;
  • Not challenging field sobriety tests, blood tests, breathalyzer tests, and other tests of intoxication and levels, thus allowing inadmissible and unreliable evidence to reach the jury unchallenged;
  • Not retaining, preparing, and presenting expert witnesses on your behalf to prove your innocence while raising reasonable doubt around the prosecution's evidence;
  • Not identifying available lay witnesses with helpful material information in your defense, or not securing their attendance at trial;
  • Not aggressively preparing your DWI defense for trial, so that your unprepared stance leaves you in the position of taking the prosecution's only plea offer or likely suffering a conviction at trial;
  • Conducting an ineffective jury selection, leaving individual jurors on the jury who hold bias and prejudice against you;
  • Failing to prepare and conduct thorough and skilled cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, leaving the prosecution's evidence unchallenged;
  • Failing to make post-trial motions and take appeals when the grounds for reversal of your DWI conviction exist; and
  • Not helping you manage professional, business, trade, or other license proceedings, employer issues, and other collateral issues.

Contact Our Houston DWI Defense Attorney

Don't let a bad Texas DWI charge overwhelm and defeat you. Skilled and experienced DWI defense representation can make the difference. Attorney Doug Murphy is available for your defense of all Texas DWI charges. Attorney Murphy is one of only two Texas attorneys who are Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and in DWI Defense by the National College for DUI Defense. Houston area lawyers have also voted Attorney Murphy the Best Lawyers in America Houston Lawyer of the Year for DWI Defense. Attorney Murphy also lectures to lawyers and judges nationwide on DWI defense, proving his national reputation, knowledge, and skills. Call 713-229-8333 or reach out to us online for the best available DWI representation.

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