Ten million arrests happen in the U.S. every year. The bulk of these arrests, more than 78%, happen in urban areas. But surprisingly, within those geographic areas, the bulk of arrests happen in the suburbs. That's right; suburban areas have higher arrest rates than urban areas. The same holds in the Houston area. Police arrested nearly 30,000 people for DWI in 2019, and many of those were in the suburbs.
Why do the suburbs have higher arrest rates? The police are more likely to pull you over for traffic violations or a suspected DWI in the suburbs. Suburban police departments have the time and resources to enforce traffic laws in a way that many urban departments can't. With those suburban DWI arrests come some unique legal problems.
Teenage or Young Adult Children & DWIs Near Schools
If you have teens or young adults living with you, you know that this age group is far more likely to face a traffic stop, particularly in the suburbs. Younger people tend to get in more accidents and make mistakes that experienced drivers don't. So, young adults in suburban areas need to be even more aware of the risk of a traffic stop that could lead to a DWI arrest.
Underage Drinking and Driving
In Texas, an adult doesn't violate the DWI statute unless they are driving while intoxicated in a public area. For people of legal drinking age, "intoxication" means they no longer have the normal use of their mental or physical faculties, or their blood alcohol content (BAC) is over .08%. The law is not the same for individuals under 21 who cannot legally drink. Texas is a zero-tolerance state. Zero tolerance means that Texas prohibits the use of any alcohol by minors. The law doesn't require that the police show diminished capacity or a BAC over .08%. If a minor drives after ingesting any detectable amount of alcohol, that is the crime of "driving under the influence" (DUI).
DWI Stops Near Schools
If you have a child in college in the Houston area, you should know that traffic stops and DWI stops happen routinely near colleges and universities in the area. Police will watch for possibly intoxicated students at favorite hangouts and after college sporting events. One complicating factor for students is the possibility of facing school disciplinary proceedings as a result of an arrest or conviction for DWI.
DWI With a Child Under 15 in the Car
If the police arrest you for a DWI in a suburban area, you're much more likely to have a child in the car with you. As a result, you could face DWI charges and a separate charge of DWI with a child under 15 in the car, which is a state jail felony.
Under Texas Penal Code § 49.05:
(a) A person commits an offense if:
(1) the person is intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place; and
(2) the vehicle being operated by the person is occupied by a passenger who is younger than 15 years of age.
If convicted, you could face 180 to two years in jail, plus up to a $10,000 fine. You could also face complications with child custody and visitation if you are divorced, or even a visit from child protective services. If the police charge you with DWI with a child in the car, you need to consult a DWI attorney immediately.
DWIs on the Way Home from a Night in the City
If you're heading home from a dinner with friends in the city or even just heading home to the suburbs after work, you could face a DWI charge resulting from a routine traffic stop. If you're tired after a long day, your speech and behavior could be mistaken for intoxication by a police officer. Particularly if the officer knows you've had a drink or two. As a result, you should be vigilant when headed home into the suburbs for the city because suburban police will be watching.
DWI and Possession of Illegal Drugs Near a School
If the police arrest you for a DWI in the suburbs and you have a controlled substance in the car, whether illegal or prescription, you could face drug charges on top of your DWI. A DWI can result from intoxication because of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two. Unfortunately, drug charges are serious business in Texas.
- Marijuana possession is at least a Class B misdemeanor,
- THC possession is a felony, and
- Even possession of drug paraphernalia is a Class C misdemeanor.
But a DWI with an accompanying drug possession charge is even more complicated in many suburban areas because of Texas "drug free zones." You can face enhanced penalties and charges under both state and federal laws in a drug free zone.
A drug free zone is an area designated by Texas and the federal government where the police will enforce drug laws more harshly. If the police arrest you with illegal drugs in one of these zones, you will face harsher penalties, higher fines, and lengthier prison sentences. Texas drug free zones include:
- Anywhere within 300 feet of a public swimming pool or video game arcade,
- Anywhere within 1,000 feet of a school or property owned by a school, including a daycare, k-12 school, college, or university,
- Anywhere within 1,000 feet of a youth center or playground, or
- On a school bus.
You can easily be in a drug free zone in the Texas suburbs and not even realize it. These zones can be a particular problem for young adults or older teens living in the suburbs who may think that having a few THC edibles or some weed isn't a big deal. While it may not be in many states, Texas does not have lax drug laws, even when it comes to marijuana. Your 20 year old could get stopped in front of the elementary school down the street and charged with DUI and possession of an illegal substance in a drug free zone. In a situation like that, it's essential that you call an experienced DWI attorney right away.
How to Avoid a DWI in the Suburbs
You can take some preventative measures to avoid getting pulled over in the suburbs, particularly at night. First, know your drinking limits and understand that when you are tired, alcohol may affect your driving more readily, or the police may be more likely to mistake exhaustion for intoxication if you've also been drinking. Second, be sure to follow the traffic laws. We all roll through a stop sign from time to time, and it's easy to find yourself traveling a few miles over the speed limit. But you should be more cautious about following the rules if you've been drinking. Be sure to:
- Use your turn signal, even if you're making a right turn with no one in sight.
- If it's dark outside or it's dusk, be sure to turn your lights on. Better yet, if you have the option, set your lights to automatically turn on when the light fades.
- Use your turn signal when changing lanes, even if you don't think there's anyone behind or beside you. Police officers could easily be observing you from the side of the road.
- Come to a full stop at all lights and stop signs.
- Make sure your registration sticker is always up to date.
- Be diligent about replacing turn signals or lights that burn out.
Be aware of your surroundings and be vigilant about careful driving in the suburbs. If you can avoid a traffic violation, you can avoid a possible DWI stop or arrest.
Hire an Experienced Houston-Area DWI Attorney
If you're facing a DWI in the suburbs, it's important to remember that you are innocent until proven guilty. Even if the BAC administered by police showed your BAC over .08%, that doesn't mean you'll face a DWI conviction in court. Hiring an experienced DWI attorney with advanced education and experience in legal and technical DWI issues is your best bet for a favorable outcome.
Attorney Doug Murphy is one of only two attorneys in Texas Board Certified in both DUI Defense and Criminal Law. His Board Certification in DUI Defense comes from the National College of DUI Defense (NCDD), accredited by the American Bar Association and the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Doug's Board Certification in Criminal Law is accredited by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Best Lawyers in America also recently named Doug the "Lawyer of the Year" for 2021 for DWI defense in Houston.
The Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association also awarded Doug The Sharon Levine Unsung Hero Award for his work with others to expose the Houston Police Department's Breath Alcohol Testing vans' flaws. The work of Doug and others led to the department decommissioning the vans. Find out why the Houston media called Doug "the drinking driver's friend." Call us at 713-229-8333 today to set up a consultation.