If you've been arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Texas, it can be scary and overwhelming. You probably have a lot of questions about what will happen and punishments, as well as the long-term consequences of having an arrest on your record. The best person to answer those questions is an experienced DWI specialist attorney.
While hiring a DWI specialist may seem like an expensive proposition, an attorney with expertise in DWI litigation is well worth the reasonable cost. A DWI conviction can have serious consequences. You could end up spending more by saving money on a lawyer with a bad outcome. You can face jail time, fines from the court, as well as mandatory penalties imposed by the state, and a lengthy license suspension. You can also face professional and long-term personal consequences from a criminal conviction. When you weigh hiring a skilled attorney versus the potential short and long-term consequences of a DWI conviction, you'll want to call an attorney right away. Set up a free consultation as quickly as possible to discuss your options.
What is Driving While Intoxicated?
In Texas, the police can arrest someone for driving while intoxicated (DWI) if “the person is intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place.” Tex. Penal Code § 49.04 (2003). The police can show someone to be intoxicated if they:
- Have a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or higher; or
- Don't have the “normal use of mental or physical faculties” because of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two, regardless of BAC.
See Tex. Penal Code § 49.01 (2003). While a first DWI in Texas is typically a Class B misdemeanor, the charge and penalties increase if there are aggravating circumstances such as:
- Having a BAC of .15% or greater;
- Having a child under 15 in the car;
- Having an open container of alcohol in the car;
- Causing serious injury to someone else; or
- Causing an accident that results in someone’s death.
A second DWI is typically a Class A misdemeanor, and a third or successive DWI is a third-degree felony.
Penalties for DWI in Texas
The penalties for a DWI conviction in Texas start with a minimum of 72 hours in jail for a first DWI and increase to ten years in prison for a felony DWI. You'll also face fines of $2,000 to $10,000 and a license suspension for up to two years.
In the best-case scenario, a first DWI conviction can result in only a $500 fine, a license suspension for 90 days, and 72 hours in jail. But Texas also recently added mandatory amounts to the fines you can receive for a DWI, including:
- $3,000 for the first DWI in 36 months;
- $4,500 for any subsequent DWI in 36 months; and
- $6,000 for a BAC of .15% or higher.
The state imposes this penalty in addition to any fines you receive from the court.
Is a DWI a Big Deal?
A first DWI in Texas is a Class B misdemeanor. Many people assume that any charge that isn't a felony isn't a big deal. But even a misdemeanor means you will have a criminal record. If a prospective employer requires a background check, chances are you won’t get the job. A misdemeanor can interfere with college acceptance, housing, college scholarships and financial aid, professional or graduate schools, obtaining a mortgage, or renting an apartment. In some cases, you might not even be able to perform volunteer work in your community. Even if you can work in your chosen profession, you will find yourself explaining that DWI to prospective colleagues, supervisors, and human resource departments for the rest of your life.
A felony DWI can close even more doors. A felony conviction can:
- Prevent you from voting;
- Prevent you from buying, owning, or possessing a firearm;
- Prevent you from serving on a jury;
- Affect college and graduate school admission;
- Prevent you from receiving scholarships or financial aid;
- Prevent you from renting an apartment or obtaining a mortgage;
- Prevent you from joining the military or law enforcement agencies;
- Prevent you from obtaining a security clearance;
- Prevent you from obtaining professional licensing like legal, nursing, medical, dental, or teaching; or
- Prevent you from obtaining a security clearance.
In some states, a prior felony conviction can also prevent you from holding public office.
The DWI Remains on Your Record
Moreover, Texas is not a “look back” state. In most states, law enforcement will look back only a certain number of years to determine whether this is your first, second, or successive DWI. If you had four DWIs more than five years ago in Rhode Island and the Rhode Island state police arrest you for DWI again, they would charge you with a first DWI. Texas does not do this. If you received four DWIs more than five years ago and the police arrest you for DWI again, Texas courts will treat this charge as your fifth DWI. That DWI is on your record for life.
When you add up increases to your car insurance, the loss of your license, fines, and possible jail time, a DWI is an expensive conviction. The best chance you have of avoiding this is to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney with extensive DWI experience as soon as possible.
Why Do I Need a Lawyer?
It's important to remember that just because the police arrested you for a DWI, it does not mean a court will find you guilty. You also aren't limited to a guilty plea just because you had a BAC test over .08%. A skilled and experienced DWI attorney can walk through the police report and the events that happened surrounding your arrest and notice details that aren't apparent to the untrained eye. An attorney may see avenues of defense that an untrained layperson simply cannot see.
Moreover, when you walk into court, the judge won't offer you special treatment because you aren't a lawyer. The court will expect you to comply with the rules of evidence and the court, even if you don't know and understand them. The biggest hurdle will be attempting to introduce evidence and witnesses and cross-examine the state's witnesses. You will be at a disadvantage if you don't have an experienced criminal defense attorney at your side. In the end, you'll undoubtedly pay more in fines, insurance increases, and lost time and reputation if you try to defend yourself.
I Already Submitted to a BAC Test
Even if you've already submitted to a blood alcohol content test, a skilled DWI attorney can help. Many people charged with DWI assume that a BAC test over .08% means they will be found guilty. But there can be many problems with both breathalyzer tests and blood tests that purport to measure blood alcohol content accurately. Problems include:
- Breathalyzer tests don't measure the alcohol in the brain or blood, only what is in the airway;
- A person's temperature, breathing, and breath/blood partition ratio can all affect the BAC on a breathalyzer;
- Breathalyzers are calibrated for the average male, assuming every person is the same sex and average weight, leading to inaccurate results for women and those who deviate from the norm;
- Chronic health conditions like diabetes, heartburn, liver disease, gum disease, and heart disease can all affect results;
- Some diets, including the ketogenic diet, can affect results in much the way diabetes can;
- Close, strong radio frequencies can interfere with some breathalyzer machines;
- Poorly maintained or machines that aren't regularly calibrated can also be inaccurate;
- Poorly administered tests such as those administered less than 15 minutes before another test, dirty mouthpieces, and untrained administrators can all result in inaccurate results;
Errors and mishandling can also happen with blood tests. In 2014 in Bexar County, a forensic laboratory employee failed to handle blood tests according to laboratory procedures. As a result, the employee mislabeled more than 300 blood samples, including many DWI blood samples. This lab snafu wasn't an isolated incident. Problems with blood samples can include:
- Mishandling or mislabeling samples;
- Improperly collecting samples;
- Failing to store blood samples properly;
- Intermingling samples;
- Fermenting samples;
- Miscalibration or failing to maintain lab equipment; and
- Interchanging samples.
Lab employees and law enforcement officers are human, and they make mistakes. But in some cases, these mistakes can have life-altering consequences. An experienced DWI attorney knows how to ensure that this doesn't happen to you.
Hire a Skilled Houston DWI Specialist Lawyer
When you are facing a DWI charge, you're also facing a wide range of personal and legal consequences. A DWI conviction is expensive, and the collateral consequences can follow you for years. You need an attorney with skill and experience. Attorney Doug Murphy is Board Certified in both DWI and criminal defense law.
Doug Murphy brings more than 20 years of criminal defense work to the courtroom. Best Lawyers in America also recently named Doug the “Lawyer of the Year” for 2021 in DWI defense. The prestigious ranking, published by U.S. News and World Report, is based entirely on Doug's fellow defense attorneys' reviews. Out of the courtroom, Doug is also noted for his advocacy on behalf of defendants. The Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association awarded him the Sharon Levine Unsung Hero Award for his hand in exposing the flaws in the Houston Police Department Breath Alcohol Testing vans, which led to their decommissioning.
Doug also serves as the Dean of the National College for DUI Defense conducted at Harvard Law School, and previously served as President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association. He also served two terms on the board of directors and as co-chair of the DWI Committee with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. Doug has the experience and skill necessary to provide the best defense possible in a Houston DWI case. Contact his office today by calling 713-229-8333 or contact us online for your free consultation.