Texas is a beautiful state with many popular vacation spots. The state brings in more than 80 billion in tourism dollars annually, with an estimated $164 billion in economic impact. More than ten million people visit Texas annually. But Texas also takes drinking and driving seriously, and one mistake can have big consequences even if you don't live in Texas.
Here's how Texas DWI laws could impact you when you visit the state. You've spent the day at the beach with friends and family, and then you go to dinner. On the way back to Houston to your hotel, you're happy and sunburned, with the kids falling asleep in the back of the car. You're a bit tired too – it's been a long day. Then you see the flashing lights behind your car, and you pull over. The police officer asks you if you've been drinking. Now, you had a few drinks with dinner, but you don't think you're intoxicated. The police officer asks you to complete a field sobriety test, and you do, but then the officer asks you to take a breathalyzer test. You do, but then the police arrest you and charge you with DWI and DWI with a child passenger because your kids are in the car.
You're supposed to be on vacation! So, what happens next, and what should you do to navigate a DWI charge while you're on vacation in Texas?
What Happens Immediately After a Texas DWI
Immediately after your arrest, the police will take you to a local station for booking. It should only take a few hours to book you, and then most arrestees will stay in the Joint Processing Center in Harris County until released. If the police arrested a loved one, you might have to call to verify where they are.
Handling Your Car
When police arrest you, they will often impound and tow your car. But there are some other options that the police may allow, including:
- The police may permit a licensed family member to come to the car and pick it up.
- The police officer may permit a sober, licensed passenger to drive the car.
- The police may tow and impound your car.
While the police may wait for a friend or family member to come to pick up your car, they don't have to do this. It may depend on the circumstances of your arrest as well. If the police impound your car and tow it, they will also search it. This search is supposed to fulfill two purposes:
- Safety: To ensure there's nothing dangerous in the car like a gun or other weapon, and
- To inventory the car's contents: The inventory compilation is ostensibly to ensure that you get all of your property back.
But the police will look for illegal drugs, weapons, and drug paraphernalia. If they find any of these, you may face additional charges.
If you're driving a rental car, the police will likely tow your rental unless you have a sober, licensed driver with you who can drive the car. You can also call your rental company or have someone with you do so, and ask them to pick it up at the impound lot. Sometimes the police will agree to wait for the rental company. However, the rental company will charge you for any fees or penalties they have to pay and will be unlikely to rent to you in the future. You will also need to arrange a time to pick up any personal belongings or luggage you have in the car.
If the police impound your car, you can use the website FindMyTowedCar.com to locate it. You will need the car's license plate, the vehicle identification number (VIN), and other information about the car, like the make, model, and color. It takes about two hours for a car to appear on this website after the police tow it.
Picking Up a Loved One
If you're the loved one of someone the police arrested for DWI in Houston, you may need to pick them up once released. Most arrestees will remain in the Joint Processing Center in Harris County until released. You can call the Houston Help Line at 713-837-0311 to verify that your loved one is at the Joint Processing Center at 700 North San Jacinto Street. You can also use the Harris County Sherriff's Department online lookup tool to locate someone.
Posting Bond or Bail
Most of the time, the court will release someone charged with DWI on their own recognizance without requiring bail or a bond. However, this can depend on the severity of your charges and the perceived risk that you won't return to the state to face your charges. If you do need to post bail, there are several options in Texas courts.
- Posting Bail: If necessary, the court may set bail as security that the accused will return to court to face charges for hearings and trial. Bail may often include a personal bond or a bail bond.
- Bond: If the court allows a personal bond, you or one or more sureties that you name will need to sign a written agreement, the bond instrument, agreeing to appear in court to answer the charges. If you fail to appear, you or your sureties must pay the amount of money named in the bond to the court. A surety is exactly what it sounds like – someone who serves as a backup if you do not or cannot pay.
- Bail Bond: A bail bond is a written agreement that you and a surety enter to guarantee your appearance before the court. It is another type of surety agreement, but you will typically pay a bail bond agent a fee to act as your surety for a bail bond. The bail bond agent may also deposit a portion of the bond amount with the sheriff's department. If you fail to appear, the bail bond agent will forfeit their deposit and pay the bond's remainder. They'll likely also come after you to recover the money.
- Cash Bond: A cash bond is the total amount of the bond posted in cash, money order, or cashier's check. If you appear in court when required, you'll get a refund at the end of the proceedings from the county auditor's office. To post a cash bond, you will need a money order, cashier's check, or traveler's check for the full amount of the bond. The bonding section of the sheriff's office can let you know who to make the money order out to.
Your Driver's License
For Texas residents or those holding a Texas driver's license, the police will confiscate your license and give you a sheet of paper that will serve as a temporary license for 40 days. If you wish to challenge your license suspension, you have ten days to request an Administrative License Revocation hearing. If you request an ALR hearing, you can continue driving with your sheet of paper until the court holds your ALR hearing. If you fail to request an ALR hearing, you can no longer drive after the 40 days lapses until the court rules on your DWI charge.
If you don't hold a Texas license, the police should not confiscate an out of state license. However, they should issue you a suspension notice. Texas does not have the legal authority to suspend an out of state, however, Texas DPS can suspend your privilege to drive in Texas--and most likely your state will honor and impose the suspension by Texas through the interstate motor vehicle compact. You will need to contact a licensed attorney in your state to determine the specific consequences as applied to your situation. Doug Murphy routinely works with lawyers all across the United States through the network of the best DUI lawyers in the United States with the National College for DUI Defense in dealing with licensing issues. If you have another licensed driver in your family, they can drive for the remainder of your vacation. If you don't have another licensed driver with you, you'll need to rely on friends, shuttles, public transportation, taxis, or rideshare apps to get around for the rest of your vacation.
Vacation Logistics After a DWI
Having your vacation ruined by a DWI is disappointing. But soon after the arrest, you'll have some vacation logistics to figure out. If you're traveling with another licensed driver, logistics may be easier. If not, you may have to incur additional expenses for rideshare, taxi, or public transportation. If you're staying in a hotel, your hotel may offer shuttles to some of the most popular tourist destinations, allowing you and your friends and family to continue your vacation. It is not, however, a good idea to drive after the state of Texas revokes your driving privileges. If stopped again, you'll face additional charges for driving with a suspended license, and you may face another arrest.
On the plus side, if you don't have a Texas license, the Texas police won't confiscate your license. They will give you a notice of suspension, which means you cannot drive in Texas, but you can use your license as identification to get on a plane or at a hotel. If you have a Texas license and get a DWI charge while on vacation, the police will confiscate your license. If you need to travel by plane, you may need to use alternate identification such as a:
- State ID card,
- Passport card,
- Border crossing card,
- Veteran Health Identification Card,
- U.S. Merchant Marine credential,
- U.S. Department of Defense ID card,
- Any federally recognized tribal-issued photo ID card,
- Transportation worker identification credential,
- Permanent resident cards, or
- Civilian common access card.
You may also need to coordinate logistics back at home. If your home is in another part of Texas, you may need someone to pick you up from the airport. If your DWI arrest delays your trip home, you may need someone to feed and walk your dog, pick up your mail, or arrange for childcare.
If you're traveling by yourself or with friends, you may also have to let your partner or parents what happened. A straightforward approach is typically the best. Just let your partner or parents know what happened and that you need their support. You may not want to tell your parents, but if you need their financial support to fight the DWI or to deal with the consequences of a conviction, you must loop them in as soon as possible. Don't let the fear of parental repercussions keep you from fighting a DWI. Your parents can help you find an attorney to guide you through the Texas criminal justice system and ensure you don't face unnecessarily harsh penalties from your arrest.
If you're traveling in Texas for work, you may understandably be concerned about informing your employer about your DWI arrest. In some cases, you may be able to avoid it unless you have to as a condition of employment or you were acting in your capacity as a representative of the company when arrested. But if you've missed meetings or can no longer travel as needed, you may have to tell them anyway. It's important to emphasize that while the police arrested you, you have not been convicted of DWI. It might also be a good idea to reassure your employer that you plan to defend yourself against the charges vigorously.
Traveling Back to Texas
If you're facing a DWI or related charges in Texas, you'll have to travel back to Texas for certain steps in the criminal justice process. While you may be permitted to use video conferencing for hearings, you will still need a Texas DWI attorney. Hiring an attorney in Texas may allow you to return home while the charges are pending, with your attorney negotiating for reduced charges, a dismissal, or preparing for trial. The outcome in your Texas criminal case will become the deciding factor in whether you lose your license at home or face jail time in Texas. If a Texas court does convict you or a plea bargain results in jail time or DWI school, your attorney may be able to arrange for you to serve your sentence or attend DWI school in your home state.
Penalties for DWI in Texas
Penalties for a DWI in Texas are steep. They can also have life-changing consequences. Depending on the charge, you could face jail time and either a misdemeanor or felony criminal record. Moreover, in Texas, you can only expunge a DWI from your record in very limited circumstances. Even if the court convicts you of a lesser charge, that DWI conviction will remain visible to the public unless you qualify to have it sealed.
DWI Fines and Jail Time in Texas
- First DWI: A first DWI in Texas is a Class B misdemeanor punished by jail time of up to 180 days and a $2,000 fine.
- Second DWI or DWI with aggravating circumstances: A second DWI or a DWI with aggravating circumstances like a BAC of .15 or higher is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable with up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
- Third DWI: A third DWI is a third-degree felony, resulting in a maximum penalty of $10,000 and up to ten years in prison.
- Fourth DWI: A fourth or subsequent DWI is also a felony, carrying up to ten years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines as a penalty.
- Intoxication Assault: Intoxication assault is a third-degree felony. Penalties include up to a $10,000 fine and two to ten years in prison.
- Intoxication Manslaughter: Intoxication manslaughter is a second-degree felony in Texas, carrying two to twenty years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
- DWI With a Child Passenger: If you have a child under 15 in the car when arrested for DWI, it is a state jail felony and a separate charge from the DWI. This felony carries jail time from 180 days to two years and up to a $10,000 fine.
On top of court-imposed fines, the state of Texas also imposes additional mandatory financial penalties for DWIs.
- First DWI conviction in 36 months: $3,000
- First DWI conviction in 36 months with a BAC of .15 or over: $6,000
- Second or subsequent conviction in 36 months: $4,500
While Texas cannot suspend your driver's license issued by another state, you can still face consequences at home if your state is part of the Interstate Driver License Compact Commission.
DWI Expungement in Texas
In Texas, DWI convictions are not eligible for expungement except in very limited circumstances such as:
- You were a minor when arrested for DWI,
- The police arrested you for DWI but never formally charged you,
- The court dismissed your DWI,
- The court found you not guilty, or
- You appealed your DWI conviction and won.
You may, in some circumstances, be eligible to seal a Texas DWI. Sealing records means that they are no longer visible to the general public but only accessed by law enforcement agencies, government agencies, and government employers. You may be eligible to have your DWI record sealed if:
- This is your only DWI conviction.
- Your BAC was under .15 percent.
- A court didn't convict you of boating while intoxicated or flying while intoxicated.
- You don't have any other criminal convictions.
- You've never received “deferred judgment” or “deferred adjudication” for another crime.
- You completed all the terms of your criminal sentence, including paying fines and restitution.
- Your DWI did not result in an accident or injury to another person.
Sealing a Texas DWI record also has mandatory waiting periods. The waiting time is two years if:
- You had to install an ignition interlock device (IID) as part of your DWI sentence and
- You've been driving for at least six months with these IID restrictions in place.
You must wait five years to seal your Texas DWI if your sentence didn't require installing an IID in your car.
Penalties for DWI in Your Home State
Penalties for DWI convictions vary across the country. Still, many states belong to the Driver License Compact Commission to ensure that drivers convicted of DWI in other states will still face the consequences at home. While several states formed Interstate Compact in 1963, Texas has been a member since 1993. The Compact is meant to allow states to “exchange information concerning license suspensions and traffic violations of non-residents and forward them to the state where they are licensed known as the home state.” States created the Compact with the idea of One Driver, One License, One Record. If you want to locate a lawyer in your home state on the consequences of a Texas arrest and/or license suspension in your state, you can easily located the finest DUI lawyers in the country on the National College for DUI Defense attorney locator.
The Interstate Compact
Under the Interstate Compact, each state should treat an out-of-state DWI offense by its licensed drivers as if the offense and conviction happened in-state. Actions that the home state can take against its drivers convicted of DWI in other states include:
- Points on your license
- Driver's license suspension
- Fines for DWI
- Jail time
The Interstate Compact requires each member state to report a DWI to the licensing state and clearly identify the violation and whether the driver entered a guilty or not guilty plea. Other violations that member states must report include, but aren't limited to:
- Intoxication manslaughter
- Failure to stop and give information after an accident
- Intoxication assault
- Failure to stop and render aid after an accident
- Drug DWI for marijuana
- Drug DWI for prescription medication
- Felony while using a motor vehicle
- Negligent homicide
- Vehicular manslaughter
The impact a Texas DWI conviction will have on you at home depends in large part on whether your home state is a member of the Interstate Compact.
Your Home State is Part of the Compact
If your home licensing state is a member of the Interstate Compact, your Texas DWI conviction will carry the same penalties in your home state that a conviction in your home state would carry. So, in addition to facing fines and possible jail time in Texas, you could face the same at home. If your home state has stricter penalties than Texas for your DWI crime, you may face those stricter penalties in your own state.
If a court convicts you of a DWI in Texas, Texas will report your conviction to the department of motor vehicles in the state where you hold a driver's license according to the requirements of the Interstate Compact. If your home state would suspend your driver's license under its laws concerning DWI, your home state will suspend your license after your Texas conviction. Your licensing state will also enter your suspension into a National Driver Registry. Whether it is a member of the Interstate Compact or not, any state in the country can see your license suspension.
Your Home State Doesn't Belong to the Compact.
Only five states in the U.S. don't belong to the Interstate Compact, including:
If you live in one of these five states, you may avoid a license suspension at home. Texas can't revoke or suspend a driver's license issued by another state, and if your state isn't a member of the Interstate Compact, you may not face any consequences for your DWI in your home state.
However, Massachusetts treats out-of-state DWI convictions as if they occurred in Massachusetts, even though it is not a formal party to the Interstate Compact. Massachusetts also has a policy of notifying other states of DWI convictions out-of-state residents incur while in Massachusetts.
The National Driver Registry
The Interstate Compact also works with the National Driver Registry. Whether it is a member of the Interstate Compact or not, must report each DWI or DUI conviction to the registry for entry into a computer database. Every member state will check the registry's database when an individual applies for a driver's license or applies for renewal of a license. If you have an out-of-state DWI conviction or license suspension, the member state will deny your application.
For instance, let's say you have a DWI conviction in Texas while you live in Georgia. Although Georgia isn't a member of the Interstate Compact, Georgia can access the registry database when you apply to renew your license in Georgia. Similarly, if a Georgia court convicts you of a DWI in your home state and suspends your license, Georgia will report this to the National Registry even though it isn't an Interstate Compact member. If you later move to Texas and try to obtain a Texas license, Texas will see your license suspension in the registry and deny your application.
You also can't avoid a Texas DWI charge by simply returning home and pretending it didn't happen. If you don't appear for your Texas DWI hearings and trial, the Texas court will issue a warrant for your arrest. If you return to Texas, you may face an arrest for the warrant. In some cases, you may face extradition as well. You should hire a Texas DWI attorney and fight the Texas charges to avoid jail and other penalties in Texas or your home state.
Is It Worth It to Fight an Out-of-State DWI Charge?
When you consider all the possible consequences of a DWI conviction in Texas and the potential consequences in your home state, it is worth it to fight a DWI charge. You'll face:
- Possible jail time in Texas
- Large fines from a Texas court – up to $2,000 for a first DWI
- Large Texas administrative fines – at least $3,000 for a first DWI
- License suspension in your home state
- A criminal record
It's important to remember that a DWI arrest doesn't mean that a court will convict you. An experienced Texas DWI attorney will understand the best way to challenge your DWI charge.
Why Should You Hire an Expert in Texas DWI Defense?
After an arrest for DWI while on vacation in Texas, you'll urgently need to hire an experienced Houston-area DWI attorney to develop your defense. When the police arrest you for a DWI, it's natural to think that the guilty verdict is inevitable, particularly if you failed a breath or blood BAC test. But this is a myth. A skilled DWI attorney can evaluate your case and the evidence and determine the best way to defend you from the DWI charge. Your attorney may decide the best plan of attack involves:
- Challenging the blood alcohol concentration evidence,
- Challenging reasonable suspicion for the stop,
- Challenging probable cause for the arrest,
- Other constitutional challenges,
- Moving to suppress evidence, or
- Using other evidence to attack the prosecution's case.
Challenging BAC Evidence
Despite popular belief, BAC results are not foolproof. BAC evidence can often be inaccurate if the police and techs use the equipment incorrectly or conduct the tests improperly. The police must conduct breath and blood tests using strict protocols. The police and techs must regularly maintain and calibrate equipment and regular training on the use and maintenance of BAC equipment. If the police department fails to use regular training, maintenance, and calibration schedules, the BAC tests can be inaccurate.
Blood BAC tests are typically more accurate than breath tests. But blood tests aren't infallible. The amount of time that passes before a tech takes a blood sample, the equipment maintenance and calibration schedule, and even things like using an alcohol swab before taking a blood sample can all affect the accuracy of a BAC blood test. If the police fail to keep an accurate and meticulous chain of evidence or leave samples out where they can deteriorate, your attorney may attack the blood BAC test results in court.
Challenging Reasonable Suspicion
To pull a driver over, the police must have “reasonable suspicion” that they've violated the law. This violation can include simple traffic offenses like failure to signal a turn, speeding, going too slow, failing to stop at a stop sign or light, and more. If your attorney can show through testimony or other evidence that the police didn't have reasonable suspicion, then they may be able to challenge your DWI charge.
Challenging Probable Cause
To arrest you for DWI or seize evidence like a blood sample, the police must have probable cause. But breaking a traffic law typically isn't enough for a DWI arrest unless you were driving recklessly. In Brinegar v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that probable cause “exists where the facts and circumstances within the officers' knowledge, and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information, are sufficient in themselves to warrant a belief by a man of reasonable caution that a crime is being committed.” 338 U.S. 160 (1949).
Once the police pull you over, they use their interactions with you as probable cause for a DWI arrest. These interactions leading to probable cause can include things like slurred speech, confusion, impaired coordination and balance, an odor of drugs or alcohol, your attitude with the police, having drug paraphernalia or alcohol in plain sight, and your refusal to take a field sobriety test. If your attorney successfully challenges probable cause for your arrest or BAC test, the court may dismiss your DWI arrest.
An experienced DWI test may also see where other constitutional challenges may help your case. They may challenge a police search and seizure or question whether the police violated your Miranda rights. Police can't exceed the scope of a warrant or intimidate you into talking to them. Even if the police stop or arrest you on suspicion of a DWI, you still have rights.
Search & Seizure
During a DWI stop, the police may ask you if you'll take either a breath or blood BAC test. If you refuse, the police can get a warrant for a blood test if they have probable cause. The police also can't automatically search through your car if they stop you for breaking a traffic law. The police need either your consent, a warrant backed by probable cause, or an arrest back by probable cause. There are some exceptions, of course, like emergencies or stopping a threat, but for the most part, the police need probable cause to search for and seize evidence. If the police don't have probable cause for a warrantless search, your attorney can challenge it in court.
We've heard it so many times on TV dramas – “You have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney….” This statement is a “Miranda warning,” and it gets its name from a Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona. 384 U.S. 436 (1966). This landmark case ruled those statements you make in police custody are only admissible at trial if you received a warning that you have the right to remain silent and to speak with an attorney. Unless you knowingly, voluntarily, and “in an intelligent manner” waive those rights, anything you say isn't admissible in court. For a DWI arrest, the police must give you a Miranda warning if they question you about your drinking or the context of your DWI. If you voluntarily say something incriminating without the police asking, that may still be admissible in court. But in the absence of a Miranda warning, any statements resulting from police questioning may not be admissible in court.
Moving to Suppress Evidence
A skilled DWI attorney may also employ motions to suppress evidence related to your DWI based on constitutional challenges. Your attorney may move to suppress evidence against you when:
- The police had no reasonable suspicion for your initial traffic stop.
- The police didn't have probable cause for your arrest or to obtain BAC evidence.
- The police had no probable cause for a search of you or your car.
- The police violated your constitutional rights in some way.
- The police didn't follow their rules and protocols while conducting field sobriety tests, breath tests, blood tests, or drug examinations.
Relying on Evidence to Challenge Your DWI
Your attorney may also use the arresting officer's testimony and police reports to point out discrepancies during your arrest. An experienced DWI lawyer may also use videos from the police dashcam or body cameras to show inconsistencies with the arresting officer's testimony. You and your lawyer are entitled to see any video footage the police have of your traffic stop, your arrest, any interaction between you and the police, and any field sobriety tests under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure:
"A person stopped or arrested on suspicion of an offense under Section 49.04, 49.045, 49.07, or 49.08, of the Penal Code, is entitled to receive from a law enforcement agency employing the peace officer who made the stop or arrest a copy of any video made by or at the direction of the officer that contains footage of: (1) the stop; (2) the arrest; (3) the conduct of the person stopped during any interaction with the officer, including during the administration of a field sobriety test; or (4) a procedure in which a specimen of the person's breath or blood is taken." Tex. Code Crim. Pro. Art 2.1396 (2015).
Your attorney could also decide to use video in other ways during your defense, including:
- Challenging reasonable suspicion: Your attorney can point out inconsistencies between the stated reason for the stop and what the video actually shows.
- Challenging intoxication: If you appear to be clear-eyed and sober during interactions with the police and field sobriety tests, this may help your case.
- Challenging credibility: If the video and the police reports aren't consistent, your attorney may challenge the arresting officer's credibility and testimony using this evidence.
- To suppress evidence: In some cases, police video may show the police arresting and questioning you. If the police failed to give you your Miranda warning, your lawyer may use the video evidence to challenge the admissibility of any statements you made in court.
If you have video of your interactions or arrest from your own cell phone or dashboard camera, your lawyer may also use this at trial.
A Houston DWI attorney can also help you or your loved one with some of the most urgent issues after a DWI, like figuring out how to post bond, make bail payments, and locate your loved one after the arrest.
Hire an Expert in Texas DWI Defense
If you're facing a DWI after a vacation in Texas, it's bad enough that your vacation was interrupted and may be cut short. You need to quickly prevent possible long-term consequences from the Texas criminal justice system and your home state. You need an expert in Texas DWI defense as soon as possible.
Attorney Doug Murphy is a Board Certified expert in DWI and criminal defense. Board Certified attorneys are experts because they demonstrated their skills in the courtroom and their experience and expertise with legal and technical DWI defenses. Doug has been fighting for Texans facing DWI charges for many years, and he can help during this challenging time. Doug is also the 2021 Houston Lawyer of the Year for DWI defense. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm online or at (713) 229-8333 today to set up a consultation.