DWI in Houston

In Texas, driving while intoxicated (DWI) law can be unforgiving. The relevant law is found in the Texas Penal Code Title 10, Chapter 49. “Intoxicated” is defined in two ways:

  1. Generally, you are intoxicated if you consume drugs or alcohol that results in the normal loss of your mental and physical faculties; and/or
  2. Legally, you are intoxicated if your blood alcohol content (BAC) level is 0.08 percent or more at the time of driving. For minors or commercial drivers, the BAC limit is lower, i.e., any detectable amount of alcohol for a minor, or 0.04 percent BAC for commercial drivers.

It is easy to be arrested for DWI in Texas because police only need believe that you are probably intoxicated, legally referred to as "probable cause". While probable cause of intoxicated is intended to be an objectively reasonable legal standard, however, its application is highly subjective. This explains why so many innocent people are wrongly arrested for DWI. Probable cause can be acquired through your performance of a sobriety test or the results of a breath test, or simply through observation of your appearance, behavior, and the presence or odor of alcohol. A BAC above the legal limit is not required for an officer to make an arrest. If you are arrested and charged, you need to know that you may have a long legal battle ahead of you. Not only are you facing a conviction and serious penalties, but collateral personal and professional damage. A DUI conviction can impact a person's career (e.g., lose a professional license), academic aspirations (e.g., become ineligible for some financial aid or scholarships), and/or reputation (e.g., personal or professional).

Fortunately, Doug Murphy is one of four board certified DWI attorneys in Texas. Houston DWI specialist attorney Doug Murphy has a proven and successful track record of successfully challenging DWI, BWI, FWI, intoxication assault, and intoxication manslaughter charges. In some cases, the charge can be reduced or dismissed. Each case, however, is unique, warranting a separate legal strategy. Each case will also result in different outcomes depending on the unique circumstances and legal strategy, but at Doug Murphy Law Firm, we always strive for the best possible outcome for you. That is our laser focus.

Not hiring a board certified DWI specialist can be costly. Below is an overview of the repercussions of not hiring an experienced lawyer and being convicted of a DWI or DWI related charge in Texas.

Overview of DWI Offenses and Penalties

Offenses start as a Class B misdemeanor for a driver's first DWI offense to a 2nd Degree Felony. Penalties will typically include fines, incarceration and license suspension. If you want to keep your driver's license, you will also be charged an annual surcharge of up to $2,000, which acts as a maintenance fee, for 3 years through the Texas Driver Responsibility Program and will be required to carry SR-22 insurance, proof of financial responsibility.

Conviction

Offense Level

Fines

Incarceration Range

License Suspension                 

1st DWI

Class B (M)

Up to $2,000

72 hours - 180 days in county jail                 

90 - 365 days

1st DWI with BAC ≥ 0.15

Class A (M)

Up to $4,000

72 hours - 1 year in county jail

90 - 365 days

1st DWI with Open Container Enhancement

Class B (M)

Up to $2,000

6 - 180 days in county jail

90 - 365 days

2nd DWI

Class A (M)

Up to $4,000

30 - 365 days

180 days - 2 years

3rd DWI

3rd Degree (F)

Up to $10,000

2 - 10 years in Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ)

180 days - 2 years

3rd or more DWI with 1 prior TDCJ penitentiary trip

Punished as a 2nd Degree (F)

Up to $10,000

2 - 20 years in TDCJ

Up to 2 years

3rd or more DWI with 2 prior TDCJ penitentiary trips

Enhanced Felony Punishment

Up to $10,000

25 years to life in TDCJ

Up to 2 years

Convictions of these offenses can carry with them additional penalties, according to the circumstances of the case, and the judge overseeing the case. Five primary sources of additional penalties are community service, DWI education programs, alcohol treatment, ignition interlock device, and probation.

Community Service

Community service is mandated by Texas law and is basically unpaid work in the community. It is part of a convicted DWI offender's sentence. The more severe the conviction, the more hours of community service required. For first-time offenders, community service can range from 24 - 80 hours in duration. However, if you have been convicted of intoxication manslaughter, your community service sentence could range from 240 to 800 hours. Examples of community service include environmental projects, such as cleaning up litter or planting trees; cleaning and shelving books at a public library; or helping out at a local animal shelter.

DWI Education Programs

There are a number of DWI intervention and education programs throughout Texas, and they are offered by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DHS). These programs are meant to educate offenders of the dangers of drinking and driving. There are programs designed specifically for first-time offenders (DWI Education Program), repeat offenders (DWI Intervention Program), and minors (Alcohol Education Program for Minors).

DWI Education Program

This program is designed for first-time offenders who were sentenced to a time of probation. The educational program leans heavily on education about the effects of alcohol and drugs on the body and mind and how this affects driving abilities. It also provides a thorough introduction into Texas DWI laws and substance abuse and dependency. This course is 12 hours and must be completed within 180 days of the date probated was granted.

DWI Intervention Program

This program is for offenders with previous DWI convictions. This program takes a different angle and addresses lifestyle and self-esteem issues; a more thorough discussion into substance abuse and dependency; and chemical dependency/alcoholism support groups and rehabilitation processes. This course is 32 hours, and if you do not complete it, your license will be revoked until you do complete it.

Alcohol Education Program for Minors

Minors who have been convicted of driving under the influence are often required to take this program. It reviews the relationship between driving and drinking and/or doing drugs; drug and alcohol/related social problems; and patterns that signal abuse and addiction. This course is 8 - 40 hours and must be completed within 90 days of the conviction or else your license can be suspended for 6 months. Sometimes, a judge will substitute the Alcohol Education Program for Minors with community service, but the community service must also be completed within the same time frame or else risk license suspension.

Alcohol Rehabilitation

Alcohol treatment or rehabilitation as part of a sentencing for a DWI conviction is usually included to address an offender who is believed to have an alcohol or drug problem. The latter determination may be derived from the facts of the case or the results of an alcohol/drug evaluation. There are a number of approved facilities for such treatment.

Ignition Interlock Device (IID)

Ignition interlock devices are devices installed into a DWI offender's vehicle usually for the duration of his or her sentence. The device prevents the ability to start a car until the offender blows into the device and provides a breath sample. New devices have the capability to determine if it is the offender's breath blown into the device. If you are required to have an ignition interlock device, you can only have one approved by the state and installed by an approved service provider. Your driver's license will be restricted with an “N” designation that signifies you can only drive a vehicle with an approved ignition interlock system. Once the judge orders the IID, you have 30 days to have it installed, or else Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) will cancel your license.

Probation

Probation is set for a specific time frame and is an agreement for the offender to do/not to do something in lieu of a jail sentence. For first-time offenders, your attorney can often negotiate to have any jail sentence replaced with probation.

Things you may have to do:

  • Report to the assigned probation officer;
  • Pay fines, court costs, and monthly probation fees;
  • Get a drug and alcohol evaluation;
  • Take random urinalysis;
  • Maintain a job and support any and all dependents;
  • Remain at the same residence unless notification is provided to the probation officer;
  • Complete community service as directed;
  • Attend any assigned educational programs; and/or
  • Attend a Victim Impact Panel (VIP). A VIP is a forum where victims of drunk drivers address convicted DWI offenders about the devastatingly real dangers of drinking while intoxicated.

Things you must not do:

  • Drink alcohol or take drugs.
  • Commit another crime.

For repeat offenders, it is possible to have part of a jail sentence substituted with probation, but depending on the degree of the offense, the minimum required incarceration time is a mandatory 72-hour continuous hold and it can go up to a minimum mandatory 10 days in county jail for third DWI convictions, which are felonies. The mandatory minimum jail sentence increases with the severity of the conviction.

Additional Intoxication or DWI-related Offenses in Texas

You do not have to be driving a vehicle to be convicted of an intoxication charge. Likewise, you could be driving while intoxicated and have the penalty increased due to certain circumstances associated with the DWI. There are 6 specific offenses that involve intoxication or aggravating circumstances around the DWI. The first 3 offenses can be found in Texas Penal Code Title 10, Chapter 49 with DWIs, but the last 3 offenses, which are related to DWI and injury or risk of injury to others, are located in different code sections than Chapter 49, and expose offenders to more serious consequences.

  1. Boating While Intoxicated (BWI). In Texas, BWIs are just as serious as DWIs, and carry with them the same penalties and license suspension as DWIs. The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the offender either (1) lost normal use of his/her physical or mental faculties; or (2) maintained a 0.08 BAC or higher while operating the boat.
  2. Flying While Intoxicated (FWI)
. In Texas, FWI convictions can potentially carry with them the same penalties as DWI convictions. The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the offender either (1) lost normal use of his/her physical or mental faculties; or (2) maintained a 0.08 BAC or higher while operating the aircraft.
  3. Assembling or Operating an Amusement Ride While Intoxicated. In Texas, assembling or operating an amusement ride while intoxicated is illegal. Though the penalties are not as severe as DWIs, there is a fine up to $2,000 and a minimum mandatory 72-hour jail sentence (6 days if caught with an open container), but a jail sentence could extend upwards to 180 days. The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the offender either (1) lost normal use of his/her physical or mental faculties; or (2) maintained a 0.08 BAC or higher while assembling or operating the amusement ride.
  4. DWI with a child under 15 in the vehicle. Operating a vehicle while (1) intoxicated; and (2) with children under the age of 15 in the vehicle, is a felony that has serious consequences. An offender faces months in jail, if not years in jail, fines up to $10,000, automatic license suspension for 180 days, among many other consequences. CPS may even open a case against a parent who has been charged with DWI; as soon as a DWI charge is filed against a parent with his/her child(ren) in the car, the prosecutor also files a report with CPS.
  5. Intoxication Assault. Intoxication assault is a 3rd-degree felony. If someone drives while intoxicated and causes an accident that results in injury to another person(s), then the offense is intoxication assault, a strict liability offense in Texas, and as such, the police do not need to prove culpability to convict a person. A conviction could lead to 2-10 years incarceration and $10,000 in fines, among other consequences and penalties.
  6. Intoxication Manslaughter. Intoxication manslaughter is a 2nd-degree felony. If someone drives while intoxicated and causes an accident that results in death to another person(s), then the offense is intoxication assault, a strict liability offense in Texas, and as such, the police do not need to prove culpability in order to convict a person. A conviction could lead to 2-20 years incarceration and $10,000 in fines, among other consequences and penalties.

In addition to these 6 intoxication and DWI-related offenses, there are other circumstances that can enhance these offenses and which can result in stricter penalties. Examples of enhanced offenses include (1) injuring a firefighter, peace officer, or other emergency medical personnel; or (2) causing a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that results in a persistent vegetative state.

DWI and ALR Hearings

When a person is charged with a DWI in Texas, there is the criminal process and the administrative process. Both processes are separate and independent from each other. The administrative process can result in civil penalties that are in addition to the criminal penalties; it is known as the Administrative License Revocation (ALR) and is handled by DPS. The process is invoked if, upon request by a law enforcement officer during a traffic stop and under suspicion of DWI, you either (1) take a chemical test and fail it; or (2) refuse to take a chemical test.

In Texas, all drivers, upon obtainment of a driver's license and registration of a vehicle, implicitly consent to adhere to the rules of the road. This implied consent includes consent to a chemical test if a law enforcement officer suspects drunk or drugged driving. If you fail or refuse a chemical test, you will be subject to the ALR and have your license suspended. The duration of suspension is longer for those offenders who refuse the chemical test rather than fail it.

Refusal of Breath or Blood Test

Failure of Breath or Blood Test

Adults    

First Offense

180 days

90 days

Second Offense

2 years

1 year

Minors    

First Offense

180 days

60 days

Second Offense

2 years

120 days

The Administrative License Revocation (ALR) Procedure

The ALR procedure is straightforward, but offenders often confuse it with the criminal process. The basic process is as follows:

  • You refuse or fail a breath or blood test.
  • The law enforcement officer takes your driver's license and issues a temporary driving permit.
  • If you want to request an administrative hearing, you must do so within 15 days; if you request the hearing after the 15-day period, your request will be denied.
  • If you do not want to request an administrative hearing, license suspension will automatically commence 40 days after the arrest.
  • If you requested a hearing and lose ALR hearing, you can appeal the verdict within 30 days of the license suspension.

Texas Driver License Reinstatement

To reinstate your Texas driver's license, you must fulfill all obligations as established by both the criminal process and the ALR process. Generally, this includes the following:

  • Pay all fines associated with your DWI, including criminal and civil fines;
  • Complete any period of revocation or suspension ordered by the court;
  • Complete any jail sentence ordered by the court;
  • Complete any additional penalties ordered by the court, including but not limited to community service, DWI education classes, alcohol or drug rehabilitation, and/or probation; and
  • Pay all fees associated with reinstatement, which includes the ALR fee of $125 and the surcharges of $1000 - $2,000 annually for three years.

FAQs

If I am stopped, what should I do?

There are things you can do to improve the situation of a traffic stop. First, you have the ability to set the tone, so be polite. If you are rude, then an officer may mirror that behavior. Second, you are on camera; both officers and cars are now generally equipped with cameras, so what you do and say will matter before a prosecutor, judge, and jury. Third, if you are asked to do a sobriety field test, you may be nervous and mess up. These tests are not designed for you to pass, and a police officer is looking for “clues” that are used to score a test. Try to remain calm. The key to passing a sobriety test is not necessarily being sober, but listening to the officer's instructions. To note, you are not required by law to conduct a field sobriety test, both refusing or doing the tests have their benefits and consequences. If, however, you refuse to do the test, you should expect to be arrested.

Should I take a breath or blood test?

There are inherent reliability issues with breath and blood tests. In recent history, there have been incidences in Texas and throughout the U.S., where results, in large numbers, have been proven faulty or inaccurate, thus, leading to a number of wrongful arrests and convictions. Breathalyzers are notoriously faulty machines if not maintained properly while blood tests are conducted by multiple persons, and thus are prone to human errors in the blood testing chain of custody. Many attorneys suggest a refusal to submit to a chemical test in the hopes a warrant will not be obtained. But today, warrants are obtained on a regular basis throughout the day and night and many jurisdictions are experimenting with software to make it easier for judges to electronically issue a warrant. There are also “no refusal” weekends, generally holiday weekends, when judges are on-call for this very purpose. The idea, however, is that the longer it takes to obtain a warrant, the better the results will be, especially in rural Texas where it can take up to 6 hours for the whole warrant process.

This refusal, however, may not be in your best interest. First, it has its immediate consequences, which include frustration with the law enforcement officers and longer license suspension period. Second, accepting the breath test immediately upon request can produce several benefits, including: (1) you demonstrate to the officers, judge and jury that you were cooperative; (2) you demonstrate to the jury that you believed yourself not to be intoxicated; and (3) you avoid the situation where you could be stuck with a needle in an unsanitary condition later at the police department after the police have obtained a warrant for a blood test. Whether you take or refuse a breath or blood test is up to you; you have to weigh the pros and cons of the action.

What must the state prove to convict me of a DWI?

Many drivers charged with a DWI assume they cannot fight it, and, therefore, subject themselves to the consequences. The state, however, must prove you are guilty; giving up the fight is playing into the hands of the state unnecessarily. The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were (1) intoxicated; (2) while operating; (3) a motor vehicle; (4) while in a public place. The first element is the primary element with which an experienced attorney can find fault. An experienced attorney will investigate thoroughly the circumstances surrounding the DWI and the test used to determine your intoxication, whether sobriety tests or chemical tests. Another element that can prove problematic for prosecutors is the “while operating” the vehicle. Sometimes, the person who is simply in their car but not operating it is charged with DWI. The specifics of the case will be crucial to the outcome of any case. An experienced attorney will identify issues and human error that can help your case, either by reducing the charge(s) or having the charge(s) dismissed altogether. When it's a DWI charge, there is too much at stake: fight the DWI charge; hire an experienced attorney.

Comprehensive, Resourceful DWI Attorney in Houston, Texas

DWIs, DWI-related offenses, and intoxication offenses, all have very serious consequences in Texas. In addition to the criminal matters, you are also subject to administrative issues and collateral consequences. You do not want to make the mistake of trying to counter your DWI alone. You need an attorney, but not just any attorney. You need an experienced attorney who has the:

  • Experience, reputation, and knowledge on how to successfully attack the state's blood, breath and field sobriety evidence;
  • Resources to provide comprehensive representation;
  • Knowledge of the law, the procedures, the court system, and the judges; and
  • Capability to strategize and negotiate a plea deal, reduced charge(s), or dismissal.

The sooner a board certified DWI attorney specialist becomes involved, the sooner the investigating and strategizing can take place for the best possible outcome. In accident cases involving serious bodily injury or death, time is of the essence to retain an accident reconstruction expert to preserve evidence that may be favorable to you.

At Doug Murphy Law Firm, we devote our resources and capabilities to DWI cases. We have decades of proven experience and a reputation earned in the courtroom for successful results. Attorney Doug Murphy is a board certified DWI lawyer who not only fights on behalf of his clients but constantly gives back to the legal community to teach other attorneys how to do the same. Contact Doug Murphy today to discuss the circumstances of your case.

 

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.

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