As a parent, it's one of the worst calls you can get: your teenager calling to let you know they've been arrested for DWI. You probably think it can't get much worse than a criminal charge for DWI until you discover that your underage child also had another teen in the car and is now facing a felony charge.
Driving while intoxicated is a serious matter in Texas, and if the police arrest your child while another teen is in the car, the consequences can be serious and long-lasting. That's why you need to hire an expert in DWI defense as soon as possible.
Zero Tolerance: DWI in Texas as a Teen
The law regarding DWIs in Texas is pretty broad, even for adults of legal drinking age. But for those under 21, Texas is a zero-tolerance state. The standard DWI law in Texas prohibits people from driving a vehicle in a public place if:
- Their BAC is over the legal limit of .08% or
- They no longer have the normal use of their physical or mental faculties.
However, the state of Texas holds minors to a much higher standard. Those under 21 can face charges of “driving under the influence of alcohol,” also known as DUI or DUIA, if they are under the influence of any detectable amount of alcohol. The statute states, “A minor commits an offense if the minor operates a motor vehicle in a public place, or a watercraft, while having any detectable amount of alcohol in the minor's system.” Tex. Penal Code § 106.041 (2009).
Even if your child is well under the legal BAC limit of .08%, if a BAC test detects any amount of alcohol in their blood, they can face charges for driving while under the influence of alcohol. However, if your child's BAC is over the legal limit, they can still face additional charges of driving while intoxicated.
Penalties for Underage DUI in Texas
Typically, an underage DUI is a Class C Misdemeanor if your child is under 17. Sometimes the police officer charging them may simply issue a citation rather than take them to jail for booking. A conviction for a Class C Misdemeanor can result in a fine of up to $500, 40 hours of community service, and a mandatory alcohol awareness program.
However, if your child is at least 17 or has two or more convictions for DUI, the police may charge them with a Class B Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail, a one-year license suspension, and a $2,000 fine. If your child's BAC was over .08%, they might also face DWI charges. A first DWI charge in Texas is typically a Class B Misdemeanor.
DWI With a Child Passenger
While a first DWI charge is a misdemeanor in Texas, if your child had another teen under the age of 15 in the car, the police may charge them with DWI with a child passenger. Tex. Penal Code § 49.045 (2003). This is a state jail felony, even if your child and the passenger are friends and peers. A conviction for DWI with a child passenger can result in a felony criminal record, up to one year in jail, and up to a $10,000 fine.
However, the statute does state that the driver must be “intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle.” So, your child is likely to face this charge only if their BAC is over .08% or they were impaired to the point where they no longer had the “normal use of [their] mental or physical faculties.”
Consequences for Underage DWI Convictions
In some cases, if your child was under 17 when convicted of DUI, they may be able to expunge the offense later if they don't have any additional alcohol-related charges. You cannot expunge a DWI conviction. With the possibility of expungement, it may seem like a Class C Misdemeanor DUI is no big deal, and you can just pay the fine and move on. But a conviction for a DUI or DWI can impact your college and career choices in the meantime. At some colleges in Texas, you could even face on-campus disciplinary procedures.
It's also important to remember that a DUI or DWI will affect your driving record and ability to obtain auto insurance for many years. While many traffic offenses will drop off your driving record after a certain number of years, this is not true for alcohol-related offenses. These are criminal convictions, not traffic violations.
Hire an Expert in Texas DWI Law
The consequences can be serious and long-lasting if your child faces DUI, DWI, or DWI with a child passenger charges. That's why you need an expert in DWI defense by your side immediately. Attorney Doug Murphy is one of only two attorneys in Texas to hold Board Certifications in both DWI Defense, certified by the National College for DUI Defense and accredited by the American Bar Association and the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and Criminal Defense Law, certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. These certifications and his vast experience make Doug an expert in DWI defense and criminal law, with the technical knowledge and practical experience to handle felony DWI cases like DWI with a child passenger.
Doug is also well regarded by his peers, sharing his expertise with lawyers throughout Texas and the U.S. in continuing legal education seminars and other conferences. Moreover, U.S. News and World Report recently named Doug as Lawyer of the by Best Lawyers in America for 2023 Houston DWI defense; a recognition garnered from the nominations and votes of Doug's fellow attorneys in the Houston area. Doug and the skilled team at the Doug Murphy Law Firm have been defending people in Houston charged with DWI for years. Find out how they can help you and your child too. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm online or give them a call at 713-229-8333 to schedule your consultation today.