You can be convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Texas 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, drug or any other substance, or
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 consequence—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.
This article discusses some of the administrative and criminal penalties for a Texas first-offense DWI.
If you’re lawfully arrested for a first-offense DWI in Texas, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can impose administrative license revocation penalties. If you refuse (see below) or fail a chemical test, the arresting agency will confiscate your license on the spot. The officer will issue a “Notice of Suspension” which functions as a temporary driving permit, and 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 expiration of your temporary license. The 180-day DMV suspension will be set aside only if you are ultimately acquitted of DWI in criminal court.
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).
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. If convicted, 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.) First offenders also face 72 hours to six months in jail (or up to one year in jail if the BAC was 0.15% or more). A first DUI sentence may additionally include a DWI education program, community service, and probation.
For a first DWI conviction, the court will suspend the motorist’s license for 90 days to 12 months. Texas also imposes a three-year annual license surcharge ranging from $1,000 to $2,000.
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.