How Bad is a DWI in Texas?

The effects of a DWI arrest and/or conviction weigh on each person differently. The sentences and administrative penalties that come with a Houston DWI conviction vary depending on the circumstances of your arrest and your prior criminal history. But whether you are a first time offender or a have been convicted of DWI previously, the consequences of a Texas DWI are serious. A DWI conviction will always make everything more difficult from keeping your job, obtaining credit, and to finding suitable housing such as renting an apartment. So, yes, a DWI in Texas is bad.

Luckily, simply being arrested under suspicion of driving while intoxicated does not guarantee you will be convicted. In fact, it is certainly possible to beat a Texas DWI. But doing so requires that you hire an experienced Texas DWI board certified defense attorney to help you protect your rights. If you have been charged with a DWI in Texas or in the Houston area, the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. can help. Doug Murphy is recognized on one of Houston's best DWI defense attorneys, and he has the proven history of successful trial wins to prove it. Doug Murphy was recently voted by his peers as Lawyer of the Year in the Houston area of the Best Lawyers in America published in US News and Word Report in 2021 and again in 2023.  To discuss your case with a DWI defense expert, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. right away.

What is a DWI in Texas?

Texas law makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated. Intoxication is not just limited to alcohol, however. Under Texas Penal Code 49.01, there are two different definitions of intoxicated. To be convicted of DWI, a prosecutor only needs to convince a jury you are guilty of one of the following:

  • You lacked the normal use of mental or physical faculties due to the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more substances, or any other substance in the body; or
  • You had a breath or blood alcohol concentration that exceeds the legal limit of .08 percent.

In other words, you can be convicted for driving while intoxicated from alcohol, drugs, or a combination of either. You can also be convicted of DWI with a BAC below the legal limit or without giving a breath sample at all. If the prosecutor can make the case that your BAC was at .08 or above, or that a substance that you consumed prevented you from driving safely, you may be convicted of DWI.

How bad are the consequences for DWI in Texas?

Like most crimes, a conviction for DWI carries criminal penalties including possible jail time and hefty fines. However, a DWI conviction can also carry administrative penalties related to the suspension of your driving privileges. Finally, there are collateral consequences related to a DWI conviction that you might not expect.

Criminal Punishment

By statute, a conviction for DWI under Texas law carries a series of maximum penalties. These penalties increase with each prior DWI conviction you have. The first two convictions are misdemeanors, and all subsequent convictions are felonies under Texas law. The maximum penalties for each conviction include:

DWI 1st Offense: A first offense DWI is a Class B misdemeanor. A conviction carries a maximum fine of $2,000 as well as a jail sentence of up to 180 days. A first offense becomes a Class A misdemeanor if your BAC at the time of driving was .15 or more. A Class A misdemeanor carries a maximum fine of $4,000 as well as a jail sentence of no more than one year. A first offense conviction will also lead to a license renewal surcharge of up to $2,000 per year for three years.

DWI 2nd Offense: A second offense DWI is a Class A misdemeanor. A conviction carries a maximum fine of $4,000 as well as up to one year in county jail.

DWI 3rd Offense: A third offense DWI is a third-degree felony. It carries a maximum fine of $10,000. What's more, a third offense DWI carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years in the state penitentiary system.

DWI 4th Offense: A fourth or subsequent conviction for DWI is also a felony offense. It carries a maximum fine of $20,000 as well as a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

While these maximums are the worst case scenario, in most instances your sentence will be below the maximum. Ultimately, if you are convicted of a DWI charge, it will be up to your DWI defense attorney to fight for the most lenient sentence possible.

Administrative Punishment

In addition to the criminal penalties that stem from a DWI conviction, there are also administrative consequences that can affect your ability to drive. These include mandatory license suspensions and excessive fees. And just like with the criminal penalties, administrative punishment gets more severe with each additional prior DWI conviction you have on your record.

DWI 1st Offense: For a first offense, the State of Texas will suspend your driver's license for one year. When you are eligible to obtain your license again, you will be required to pay a DWI license surcharge of $2,000 per year for three years in order to have your privileges reinstated. That is in addition to any other fees or costs related to your license.

DWI 2nd Offense: A second offense DWI is punishable by a two-year suspension of your driving privileges. Once eligible to reinstate your license, you will be charged a $2,000 surcharge per year for three years.

DWI 3rd Offense: A third offense DWI will lead to a two-year loss of your driver's license. Additionally, upon reinstatement, you will be required to pay a $2,000 per year surcharge for three years.

DWI 4th Offense: For a fourth or subsequent conviction, you will face another 2-year loss of your driver's license as well as the $2,000 per year surcharge.

It is possible to obtain a hardship license that allows you to drive to and from work during your suspension, but you can expect additional expenses like the installation of an interlock device. Having an experienced Houston DWI attorney guide you through the process will give you your best shot at obtaining a hardship license and limiting the penalties you may face if you are convicted of DWI.

Collateral Consequences

There are ample consequences for a DWI conviction outside of the penalties outlined by statute. Your professional life can be affected in a variety of ways and your reputation amongst your peers can be affected. Here are some of the most common collateral consequences you will face from a DWI conviction. 

You Can Lose Your Job

Many employers have a zero tolerance policy on DWI convictions. And while you may be innocent until proven guilty in court, your employer is free to let you go just for being arrested for DWI. A conviction can affect more than just your current job, too. Employers regularly run criminal background checks on their prospective hires, and you may struggle to find an employer willing to overlook your conviction.

You Can Struggle to Find Housing

Employers aren't the only people that run criminal background checks. In many cases, potential landlords will also check your record before agreeing to a lease. A landlord is under no obligation to rent to you if you have a criminal record.

Your Custodial Rights may be Impacted

If you are divorced with children, your custody rights may be affected due to a DWI conviction. A conviction suggests bad judgment, and the other parent will be able to use the conviction against you in any custody proceedings.

You Can Lose Your Professional License

Many Texans rely on maintaining a professional license to make a living. Unfortunately, many licensing entities have rules prohibiting conduct like being convicted of a DWI. Depending on the license, you could face a potential disciplinary hearing and even the suspension or loss of your professional license. Some licenses that could be affected by a DWI conviction include medical licensesnursing licenses, and pilot's licenses. You may also be at risk of losing any security clearance you have due to a DWI conviction.

You Can Lose Your Right to Own a Gun or Vote

While this isn't the case for misdemeanor DWI convictions, you can lose some of your fundamental rights upon a conviction for felony DWI. This can include the loss of your right to own a firearm or vote. Your only chance for regaining these rights is through a pardon from the Governor of Texas, and the process to obtain a pardon is long and costly.

Winning a Houston DWI Trial

The consequences of a DWI conviction can be tough on anyone. It's no surprise, then, that your ideal outcome is to avoid a conviction for DWI at all. It may feel like you are doomed to having a conviction on your record, given that the weight of the State of Texas is against you. But the truth is that DWI cases in Houston are defensible. In some cases, it's possible to win your case at trial and walk out of the courthouse free and clear.

Whether or not you will succeed in winning your DWI case will depend on the two factors:

  1. The facts and circumstances surrounding your arrest, and
  2. The experience and skill of your Houston DWI lawyer

There are people every day that decide to plead guilty to a DWI despite having a potentially strong defense against the charge. These people often make the mistake of hiring a DWI attorney that just wants to quickly arrange a plea agreement, collect their fee, and move on to the next. That's why it is so important to hire a Houston DWI attorney that isn't afraid to take your case in front of a jury of your peers.

Before your case can go to trial, however, your attorney will need to fully investigate the charges against you. The State of Texas may have unlimited resources, but they are required to turn over the evidence they intend to use against you to your attorney. This can include police reports, video, and test results.

Police Reports

Police reports are the starting point for most DWI investigations. The officer that arrested you is required to file a written report on the circumstances that led to your arrest. The report will explain the officer's reasons for arresting you as well as their grounds for making initial contact with you. Law enforcement cannot just pull over any vehicle it wants, and the police report may give your attorney the first indication that your rights may have been violated during the DWI traffic stop.


Video can be some of the most powerful evidence available at a trial because it lets the jury see what happened through their own eyes instead of just taking the word of a witness. It is possible that the state will have a video of your traffic stop. It may also have video evidence of your performance on standardized field sobriety tests. If the stop in your case was illegal or the field sobriety tests were administered incorrectly, the video may be your strongest defense.

Breath and/or Blood Chemical Test Results

An experienced Houston DWI attorney should also have the experience to review the results of your breath or blood chemical tests for any signs of impropriety. Often, these test results are the strongest evidence the state has to show your blood alcohol concentration was above the legal limit while driving. If your blood or breath sample was improperly collected, your attorney may be able to have the results of that test excluded from trial. What's more, if the State is lacking any documentation regarding mandatory calibration or testing of the testing machines, your attorney may be able to exclude test results on those grounds as well.

Hiring the Best DWI Attorney in Houston

If you or a loved one has been charged with DWI in the Houston area, the potential consequences for a conviction are serious. Thankfully, hiring the right Houston DWI attorney will give you the best shot at avoiding a conviction. Attorney Doug Murphy is Houston's best DWI lawyer as voted by his peers as Lawyer of the Year in 2021 and again in 2023, Best Lawyers in America published in US News and World Report. A Board Certified expert in both DWI defense and criminal defense law, Doug Murphy has the experience and record of success to be recognized by his peers as one the best DWI defense attorneys in Houston. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today for your free consultation.

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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.