Millions of people visit Texas every year for business and pleasure. According to the state tourism bureau, more than 72 million people visited Texas in 2018. It's not a surprise – Texas has a lot to offer. We have gorgeous beaches, beautiful plains, as well as business centers, major conferences, football, world-class shopping, top universities, fun spots. Texas has it all. But Texas also has very strict laws about drinking and driving.
Of course, everyone should take drinking and driving seriously. But picture this scenario: You spend a long day traveling and working, have dinner and drinks with colleagues, and head back to your hotel in an unfamiliar rental car on unfamiliar roads. You're tired, trying to navigate in the dark, and you can't figure out how to turn off the brights on your rental car. The next thing you know, flashing lights are pulling you over and asking you if you've had anything to drink that evening.
It's far too easy to have an innocent mistake turn into a DWI charge on a business trip or a vacation. But it's important to remember that you are innocent until proven guilty. You have the right to defend yourself against DWI charges, even if your blood alcohol level comes back above the legal limit. Knowing the potential repercussions of a DWI conviction can help you understand why it can be crucial to seek legal guidance as soon as possible after a DWI charge in a rental car.
A first DWI in Texas is typically a Class B Misdemeanor charge. You can face up to 72 hours in jail, fines, and a license suspension for 90 days. You will also face a $3,000 mandatory administrative penalty for your first DWI in 36 months. This administrative penalty is on top of any fines imposed by a court. These penalties increase for aggravating circumstances like a BAC above .15%, DWIs with a minor in the car, and intoxication assault.
You could also face additional penalties like alcohol treatment and an order to use an interlock device on your car. An interlock ignition device is designed to fit your car's starter and requires that you blow into it to start your car. If you have any alcohol on your breath, the car won't start.
The Police Will Impound the Rental Car
After your arrest, the police will need to do something with your rental car. In some cases, the police will allow you to call someone to get the car. If you have another legal driver in the car, the police may allow them to drive the car back to the rental company. However, if that's not an option, the police may not be patient. If you call your rental company and ask them to come to get the car, the police may or may not wait around. You may need to use FindMyTowedCar.com or call the tow line at 713-308-8580.
In many cases, the police will have your rental car towed. You can call your rental company or ask the police to do so, and they can pick the car up at the impound lot. Your rental company will undoubtedly charge your credit card for any fees or penalties they may incur. You may also have to arrange to collect your belongings or luggage left in the car at a later time. Of course, the rental company will be unlikely to rent to you again in the future.
Your Texas Driver License
If you are a Texas resident, the police will confiscate your license when they arrest you for DWI. When they release you, they will provide you with a piece of paper that will serve as a temporary license for 40 days. After that time, the state automatically suspends your license for up to two years. The length of your suspension will depend on the number of prior DWI convictions you have, if any, and whether you refused your BAC test.
To challenge your license suspension, you have 15 days to request an Administrative License Revocation hearing. You can drive with your temporary license until your ALR hearing date. If you miss the deadline to request an ALR hearing, your license will remain suspended until your trial and a not guilty verdict to get your license back.
The ALR hearing will be a formal hearing with an administrative law judge that will follow the rules of evidence and the Texas court. While the judge may give you a little leniency, your best chance of success during an ALR hearing is to hire a skilled DWI defense attorney to represent you in court.
An ALR hearing is a great opportunity to get a first look at the state's evidence against you and to help your attorney prepare for your DWI trial. The ALR hearing can also allow your attorney to get witnesses on to the stand and testifying under oath, locking in their testimony before your trial. At the hearing, the state needs to show that they had:
Reasonable suspicion for the stop: The state will need to prove that the police officer had reasonable suspicion for the initial traffic stop. If you were breaking a traffic law, such as speeding, swerving, or failing to use a signal, the police probably had the requisite reasonable suspicion to stop you.
Probable cause for the arrest: The prosecutor will need to prove that the officer had probable cause for your arrest for DWI. Probable cause means it was more likely than not that you committed the DWI. The state can demonstrate probable cause using the police officer's observations while you were pulled over, the results of any field sobriety tests, and breath test results.
Your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was above the legal limit: The state must prove either that you refused a breath or blood test or that you agreed to a test and your result was over .08%, or .04% if you have a commercial driver's license. If the prosecutor can't prove this, the judge will not uphold your license suspension.
If your attorney successfully overturns your license suspension in the ALR hearing, it's likely that the prosecutor will want to settle your DWI case or drop the charges.
Your Out-of-State Driving Record
Even if you live in another state, a DWI in Texas will probably follow you home. Along with 44 other states, Texas shares criminal moving violations with other states, including DWI and DUI information and convictions, through the Driver License Compact Commission. Texas joined this interstate compact in 1993 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.” The compact goal is to ensure that there is “One Driver, One License, One Record.”
As a result, for residents of most states, a DWI in Texas will follow you home, and your state may apply its own laws to your Texas DWI. Texas will report whether you entered a guilty or not guilty plea. Your home state will apply its laws to your conviction concerning jail time, fines, points assessed against your license, license suspensions, probation, alcohol education classes, and more. In addition to DWIs, Texas will also report:
- Intoxication assault
- Intoxication manslaughter
- Vehicular manslaughter
- Negligent homicide
- DWI for marijuana
- DWI for prescription drugs
- Felony while using a motor vehicle
- Failure to stop and give information
- Failure to stop and render aid
There are only five states that aren't party to the interstate compact, including:
Texas can't suspend your out-of-state license. While you must still deal with your criminal charges in Texas, whether your state will suspend your license depends on whether it is a party to the compact. While not part of the interstate compact, Massachusetts will treat your DWI as if it took place in the state.
You Must Handle the DWI in Texas
Even if you reside in another state, you must handle your Texas DWI charges in Texas. You will need to return to Texas for hearings and your trial. It is never a good idea to simply fail to show up. A Texas judge could issue a default judgment against you and issue a warrant for your arrest.
Just because the police charge you with DWI doesn't mean that a court will find you guilty. You are innocent until proven guilty, and you can defend yourself against the charges, even with a BAC test over the legal limit. The most common DWI defenses involve:
- Challenging reasonable suspicion for your stop,
- Challenging probable cause for your arrest, and
- Challenging the results of a BAC test.
Challenging Reasonable Suspicion for the Stop
The prosecutor must prove that the police had reasonable suspicion to pull you over for the stop that led to your DWI arrest. The state may show this through dashboard cameras, the testimony of the arresting officer, and police reports. The state would need to prove that you committed some traffic violation that justified the initial stop. A justification would include something like speeding, rolling through a stoplight or stop sign, failure to yield, speeding, or swerving on the road. Your attorney may also challenge inconsistencies in the police reports with the police officer's testimony.
Challenging Probable Cause for the Arrest
To arrest you for a DWI, the police must have probable cause. The prosecutor may show this through the police officer's testimony, police reports, records showing your behavior during the traffic stop, and your performance on any sobriety field tests. Many police cars have dashboard cameras, and many police wear body cameras during stops. If the videos from your arrest stop don't appear to support the police officer's testimony, your attorney can challenge the arresting officer's testimony during the trial or hearing and challenge probable cause for the arrest.
Challenging the Results of a BAC Test
Many people assume that tests measuring blood alcohol content is an infallible test that definitively provides an accurate measure of the correct BAC in the blood or breath. However, both breath and blood tests can provide inaccurate levels depending on the circumstances and how the techs or police officers conduct the tests.
A breath test doesn't directly measure the amount of alcohol in your breath. Rather, the test measures the evaporated alcohol in your airway. Police departments must maintain breath testing machines and regularly calibrate them. If this doesn't happen, breath tests can be inaccurate. They can also be inaccurate based on the health conditions you have or even the food you've recently eaten.
While blood tests are typically more accurate than breath tests, the equipment must also be properly calibrated and maintained. Moreover, blood tests require stringent documentation of the chain of evidence as well as proper processing. If you hire an attorney who is an expert in DWI defense, they will understand how to challenge the legal weaknesses in the state's case and the technical issues related to BAC evidence.
Hire an Expert in Texas DWI Defense
If you're facing a DWI in a rental car in Texas, the stakes are still high, even if you aren't a resident of the state. You could face jail time, fines, a license suspension, and additional penalties in your home state. You need a skilled Texas DWI defense attorney right away. To mount an aggressive defense, you need an attorney who is a skilled litigator and an expert in DWI technical and legal defenses.
Attorney Doug Murphy is the 2021 Houston Lawyer of the Year for DWI defense and a Board Certified expert in both DWI defense and criminal defense. Board Certified attorneys meet the highest standards in the courtroom and demonstrate their experience and skill with both legal and technical DWI defenses. Doug has years of experience fighting for Texans facing DWI charges, and he can help you during this trying time. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm online or at (713) 229-8333 today to set up a consultation.