As a parent first sending your child off to college, it was probably an emotional moment. Your son or daughter were fulfilling both your and their lifelong dream that they'd someday go away to college. You were probably brimming with pride, pushing aside concerns for their wellbeing once they'd left the safety of your nest. But now that dream may have turned into a nightmare, when you learned that your pride-and-joy had been arrested for drinking and driving.
And it must be all the scarier since this happened hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from home, and you're not sure what you can do to help your child.
If you're upset, that's understandable. But the best thing you can do for your child is to remain calm. Instead of worrying, focus on what to do next.
To do that, let's review some of the key issues—what's unique about Texas law and the impact of a charge—as you get to work to get the best lawyer in the state.
First and foremost, look for a “driving while intoxicated” (DWI) Specialist such as Doug Murphy to represent your student. Texas is known for its aggressive policing of alcohol-related driving laws, but a charge is not a conviction. Remember that people can and do win a DWI defense. And even if there's an eventual conviction, even then, with a great lawyer, you still haven’t run out of options for the future.
Effect of a Texas DWI on an Out-of-State Resident
You may wonder if a Texas drunk-driving charge is even something your out-of-state resident student needs to fight—maybe if they come home, a Texas state crime won't matter. Unfortunately, the odds are that the case will not disappear just because they crossed a state line.
All but five states (Wisconsin, Tennessee, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Michigan) have signed onto an Interstate Compact that provides that a drunk-driving charge will follow a resident to their home state. The way it works is that the home state will just adjust the charges of the other state to match its own laws.
If your home state has lesser penalties than Texas, a home-state trial might seem like it would work out to your student's advantage. However, when it comes to litigating the case, it's better to defend a Houston case in Houston.
Your home state defense lawyers won't know how many other college students were arrested that same weekend, and how the local prosecutors handled those cases. The lawyer in a different jurisdiction won't be able to go easily inspect the location or interview witnesses. They won't know if the local police have a reputation for making unlawful stops or if the lab that ran the BAC has had any issues with evidence protocols and the like.
A Houston DWI Specialist will know that and more.
And that can be the difference between a conviction and a dismissal.
How a Student's Age and Other Factors May Impact The Case
If your college student is under the age of 21 at the time of their arrest, they are still a minor, or “child,” under Texas law. This has important implications for their DWI charge and defense.
Texas is a “zero tolerance state.” That means that, with very few exceptions, Texas prohibits any use of alcohol by a minor: there is no requirement to prove that the minor had diminished ability or that the minor's BAC exceeded any amount. Instead, if a minor drives after having ingested any detectable amount of alcohol, that is sufficient to constitute a crime—specifically “driving under the influence” (DUI).
By contrast, a “driving while intoxicated” (DWI) charge alleges that a driver did not have normal use of their medical and physical faculties and/or they have a blood or breath alcohol concentration level of more than .08%.
Adults (age 21 and over) are charged with a DWI if they meet the requirement. Minors can be charged with either a DUI or a DWI, depending on the circumstance, and this decision is entirely up to the charging officer.
A First Offense DWI can bring at least 72-hours in jail and a fine of up to $2,000, while a First Offense DUI conviction does not result in any jail time, and a smaller fine (up to $500), but it also would likely require community service and attendance at an alcohol awareness education program.
Be aware that, as a minor, in addition to a DUI or DWI charge, your student could also be charged under the state's other zero-tolerance laws: They could face criminal penalties for other alcohol-related crimes, ranging from the consumption of alcohol to the purchase of it.
Additionally, who your student was with at the time of their arrest, may be relevant. If your student was arrested with anyone else who is underage, that could result in charges relating to their alcohol use as well.
There are, of course, still many factors that impact the seriousness of the case. Some of these include:
- Blood/breath alcohol concentration: If your student's BAC is alleged to have been in excess of 0.15%, they may see more severe charges being brought forth.
- Reckless driving: The prosecutor can increase the charges to include reckless driving if your student was driving on a highway, racing, or in violation of basic rules of the road.
- Property damage: DUIs or DWIs involving property damage increase penalties, while they also may mean additional civil liability and restitution.
- Bodily injury/Death: Even if the charge is a first offense, DWIs involving bodily injury or death will be charged as felony offenses.
Starting the Defense Process
If your student has been charged with a DUI, there is no bail requirement, per se, but a judge will determine if it is in the student's own best interest to be released. If your student is facing a DWI charge, then they'll go to court for a bail hearing.
Texas courts are similar to other states in the general protocol. There is an arraignment where the defendant hears the charges that have been filed against them and has the opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty. Prosecutors and defense will often negotiate in plea bargaining to see if they can resolve the case out of court. Especially for younger First Offenders, they may discuss a deferred prosecution—where the court will hold off on the proceedings, if the defendant follows a certain number of conditions and has no further offenses for a period of time.
However, an aggressive DWI Defense will forgo these compromise-tactics and focus on winning the case: identifying issues with the initial stop and arrest; reviewing the efficacy of the BAC and sobriety tests; and so on.
There is one proceeding of note in Texas you should discuss right away: The Administrative License Revocation (ALR) hearing. During a DUI/DWI arrest, Texas police confiscate the defendant's driver's license. It is commonly believed that the confiscation is equivalent to an automatic license suspension, but the suspension can be challenged in an ALR hearing. In fact, most of Doug Murphy's clients get their license back during the ALR hearing—which is significant because a Texas DWI case can take more than a year to get to trial, and a license suspension usually crosses state lines.
Short- and Long-term Consequences of a DWI
While the prospect of a criminal conviction may be upsetting enough, even an arrest can result in life-changing consequences.
In the immediate-term, universities often consider a student's arrest (even without a conviction) as a violation of the school's honor code.
At Rice, both DWIs and DUIs are “Class I” violations of the university's Code of Conduct, which can result in a range of sanctions, up to and including expulsion. Violations of any criminal law and the school's alcohol policy are also Class I violations.
At the University of Houston, the Student Code of Conduct prohibits alcohol misuse and, more broadly, cautions that the administration can act if your student did anything that could result in a criminal conviction.
Furthermore, both universities set their own timeline for disciplinary hearings, but the good news is that they allow your student to have an attorney present at the proceedings. Not only could this help the student respond to the university's action, but it could also be very useful in preparing your student’s criminal defense.
Beyond the on-campus effect, DWIs can impact their ability to obtain a professional license in many fields (e.g., medicine, nursing, real estate, finance). A conviction can hurt their ability to go to grad school or get a job. It can affect their ability to obtain a mortgage or other loans, or to get approval for renting an apartment.
Given the stakes, you and your student need the best, most experienced lawyer.
Houston attorney Doug Murphy is annually recognized as being one of the Best Lawyers in America by US News and as a Texas Super Lawyer. Murphy is one of only two attorneys in the state of Texas who is Board Certified in both Criminal Law and DWI Defense. With an AV rating of “Preeminent,” Murphy brings 20 years of experience in the courtroom in DUI defense. Currently serving as the Dean of the National College for DUI Defense conducted at Harvard Law School, Murphy was previously on the board of directors and as co-chair of the DWI Committee with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
If your child is a college student facing DWI charges in Texas, contact Doug Murphy’s office today to discuss the case so that we can immediately begin advocating on your and your child's behalf.