If you're convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Texas, the penalties you'll face depend on how many prior DWI convictions you have. This article gives an overview of the penalties and consequences associated with a first DWI conviction.
In Texas, you can be convicted of a DWI if you operate a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated. (Boating while intoxicated (BWI) is also illegal in Texas.) "Intoxicated" means you either:
"lack the normal use of mental or physical faculties" because you ingested alcohol, drugs, or any other substance, or
have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more (often called a "per se" DWI).
In other words, you can be convicted of driving while intoxicated based on actual impairment or the amount of alcohol in your system.
In some states, DUI convictions stay on your record for only a certain number of years. However, in Texas, DWI convictions generally stay on your record and count as prior convictions forever.
When you're arrested for most crimes, there aren't any penalties unless you're actually convicted of the offense (either by entering a plea or being found guilty at trial). But if you're lawfully arrested for DWI, there can be administrative consequences—such as license suspension and fees—regardless of whether you're ultimately convicted of the crime. And if you are convicted of DWI, you'll face additional criminal penalties.
If you're lawfully arrested for a first-offense DWI in Texas, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can impose administrative license revocation penalties.
For drivers who refuse (see below) or fail a chemical test (usually, a blood or breath test), the arresting officer will typically confiscate your license on the spot. The officer will issue a "Notice of Suspension," which functions as a temporary driving permit.
You have 15 days from the date of arrest to request a hearing to contest the suspension. If you don't request a hearing, your license will remain suspended for 90 days starting the 41st day after your arrest. If you do request a hearing, the Notice of Suspension will allow you to continue driving until you attend the hearing and receive a final decision.
If you refuse to submit to a chemical test in violation of Texas's implied consent laws, the DMV will automatically suspend your license for an additional 180 days upon the expiration of your temporary license.
As a first offender, you may be eligible for an "occupational license" during your suspension. An occupation license is for driving only to and from places like work, school, and places necessary to accomplish essential household duties.
To obtain an occupational license, you must provide evidence of financial responsibility and prove you have had an ignition interlock device (IID) installed on every vehicle you own or operate (some employer-owned vehicles may be exempt).
Criminal penalties result from a DWI conviction in criminal court.
Generally, a first DWI conviction in Texas is a class B misdemeanor. However, if the driver had a BAC of .15% or more, a first offense is a class A misdemeanor.
For a first DWI, you're looking at maximum fines from $2,000 to $4,000 plus administrative fees. (Get a better idea of how much a first DUI will cost you.) Texas also imposes a three-year annual license surcharge ranging from $1,000 to $2,000.
First offenders face 72 hours to six months in jail (or up to one year in jail if the BAC was 0.15% or more).
For a first DWI conviction, the court will suspend the motorist's license for 90 days to 12 months. This suspension will normally run concurrently with any administrative license suspension the driver receives.
A first DUI sentence may additionally include a DWI education program, community service, and up to 24 months of probation.
The DWI laws in Texas are complicated, and the facts of each case are different. If you've been arrested or charged with DWI, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area who can help you decide how best to proceed with your case.