Have you recently been involved in a Houston car accident? Were you arrested after the crash on suspicion of DWI? While most first-time DWI offenses are charged as misdemeanors, the fact that you were involved in an accident likely means that you will face aggravated criminal charges. As a result, you could be facing significant time behind bars and the possible revocation of your driver's license.
Just because you have been arrested on suspicion of DWI after an accident does not mean that you will be charged or convicted of a crime. You have the right to defend yourself at every point in the criminal proceedings, and the Houston DWI attorneys at the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. can help. Call us today to schedule a free consultation and learn how we can help to minimize the consequences of your first-time DWI arrest.
What is DWI in Houston?
In Texas, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle in public while intoxicated. State law provides two distinct definitions for intoxicated:
- Having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that exceeds the legal limit of .08; or
- 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.
In other words, you can be arrested for DWI if breath or blood tests determine that there is a substantial amount of alcohol in your system, or if you simply lack the ability to drive safely because you have consumed drugs and/or alcohol. As a result, you can face charges for DWI even if your breath or blood alcohol concentration does not exceed the legal limit. Consuming any quantity of drugs or alcohol can result in criminal DWI charges in Texas.
First-Time DWI Penalties
In most cases, a first-time DWI in Houston will be charged as a Class B Misdemeanor. If convicted, penalties can include:
- A maximum of 180 days in jail,
- $2,000 in fines,
- Suspension of your driver's license for up to 2 years, and/or
In addition to these penalties, you may also be required to complete DWI intervention program, install an ignition interlock device on your car, and pay costly administrative penalties and fees. A DWI conviction can also lead to increases in your automobile insurance premiums and rates.
DWI Accidents and Aggravated Penalties
Approximately 40% of all fatal car accidents in Texas involve drivers who are intoxicated. In order to deter drivers from getting behind the wheel while drunk, the consequences of DWI can be aggravated when an accident occurs. State district attorneys have the discretion to pursue a wide range of criminal penalties after you've caused a DWI accident. The charges you could potentially face will depend on (1) your level of intoxication and (2) the extent of the damage caused by the crash.
DWI Accidents Resulting in Property Damage
Not all DWI crashes will result in a personal injury or death of another person. However, accidents resulting in property damage are still considered to be a serious threat to public safety. If you are involved in a DWI accident that results in property damage, you can be charged with DWI in addition to other criminal offenses. Crimes that are often charged in addition to DWI include reckless damage and/or criminal mischief.
Reckless damage, as defined in Texas Penal Code §28.04, occurs when you “recklessly damage or destroy property” belonging to another person without their consent. Conduct is considered reckless when you know, or should have known, the potential consequences of your actions but “consciously disregard substantial and unjustifiable risk(s).”
Destruction is a Class C Misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $500. If you are responsible for the destruction of another person's property, you may also be responsible for paying restitution to the property owner.
Criminal mischief, as defined in Texas Penal Code §28.03, occurs when you “intentionally or knowingly damage or destroy the tangible property” of another person. When is conduct considered “intentional” or “knowing” for the purposes of Texas state law?
Intentional: Conduct is defined as intentional when you have a “conscious objective or desire to engage in the conduct or cause the result.”
Knowing: Conduct is defined as knowing when you “are aware of the nature of your conduct or the circumstances that exist.” In other words, you are “reasonably certain” that your actions will cause a certain result.
So, you can face criminal charges for criminal mischief if there is evidence to show that you (a) intended to damage property or (b) were reasonably certain that driving while drunk would cause property damage.
Criminal mischief can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony in Texas. The seriousness of the charge will depend on the extent of the damage that is caused in your DWI accident:
Class C Misdemeanor:
- Property damage less than $100
Class B Misdemeanor:
- Property damage between $100 and $750
Class A Misdemeanor:
- Property damage between $750 and $2,500, or
- Causing impairment or interruption of a public water supply
State Jail Felony:
- Property damage between $2,500 and $30,000;
- Property damage to a fence that was used to contain livestock or game animals; or
- Property damage causing impairment or interruption of public communication, public transportation, public gas supply, or public power supply.
- Property damage between $30,000 and $150,000
- Property damage between $150,000 and $300,000
- Property damage > $300,000.
The more damage your accident causes, the more severe the criminal penalties will be.
DWI Accident Causing Bodily Injury
Drunk driving crashes that result in bodily injury can result in additional criminal charges for intoxication assault. Intoxication assault, as defined in Texas Penal Code §49.07, occurs when you operate a vehicle while intoxicated and cause serious bodily injury to another person by accident or mistake.
Serious bodily injury is defined to mean:
- Injury that creates a substantial risk of death,
- Injury that causes permanent disfigurement, or
- Injury that causes protracted loss or impairment of a bodily member or organ.
Intoxication assault is a Third-Degree Felony, punishable by between two and ten years in prison and $10,000 in criminal fines.
DWI Accident Resulting in Death
If your Houston DWI accident results in another person's death, you may face additional criminal charges for intoxication manslaughter. Intoxication manslaughter, as defined in Texas Penal Code §49.08, occurs when you drive while intoxicated and “by reason of that intoxication cause the death of another by accident or mistake.”
The victim of your deadly DWI crash can be anyone, including your own passengers, other drivers, bicyclists, motorcyclists, or even pedestrians. Victims do not necessarily have to die on impact in the DWI crash. You can also face criminal charges for intoxication manslaughter if a victim suffers fatal injuries and dies at a later time and date. The bottom line is that you can face criminal charges as long as your drunk driving conduct caused someone's death.
Intoxication assault is a Second-Degree Felony in Texas, punishable by between two and twenty years in prison and $10,000 in fines.
Defending DWI Charges in Houston
Have you been involved in a Houston accident and accused of driving while intoxicated? It's important to understand that an accusation does not necessarily mean that you will be charged with and/or convicted of a crime. The state must be able to prove that you are guilty of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This is an extremely high burden of proof that can be difficult to satisfy if you assert a strong defense.
Defenses that may be helpful in defending criminal charges for DWI property damage, assault, and manslaughter include:
- You were not under the influence of drugs or alcohol,
- Results of the breath and/or blood test are inaccurate and/or invalid,
- No property was damaged in the crash,
- No one died or suffered an injury in the crash,
- The state has gathered evidence against you in violation of your Constitutional rights, and/or
- You have been mistakenly identified or falsely accused of a crime.
While you can assert any of these defenses on your own, it is always best to have the assistance of a Houston DWI attorney. Call the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. to learn about how our Houston DWI attorneys can help you defend yourself against DWI charges.
Houston DWI Defense Attorneys
First-time DWI charges are generally treated as misdemeanor offenses in Texas. However, if you're involved in DWI accident, the consequences of your actions can be much more severe. You may face aggravated DWI penalties, as well as charges for additional crimes. In the most serious situations, you can face the possibility of more than two decades behind bars. The stakes of a DWI accident are incredibly high. Deciding to hire an attorney to handle your criminal DWI case is the best things you can to protect your future.
Call us at (713) 229-8333 to schedule your free case evaluation. We will review the details of your case, discuss possible legal strategies, and answer any questions you may have. It's important to get started on your defense as early as possible, so call us for help today.