When facing DWI charges, it is normal to wonder how long a conviction can stay on your record. There are roughly 24,000 drunk-driving-related crashes in Texas every year, and the state ranks in the top 10 for DWI fatalities. As a result, the laws are particularly strict.
If found guilty, the charge could affect a person for the rest of their life.
There are many reasons why drunk driving is a bad choice, not least of all the potential penalties imposed in the state of Texas and the length of time it stays on your criminal record.
Now, how long does a DWI stay on your record in Texas? Let's take a look:
In Texas, a DWI conviction stays on a person's criminal record forever. It is one of 11 states to impose this maximum time.
The penalties for a DWI in Texas vary depending on the blood alcohol level and whether or not it is the first offense.
If somebody is injured or killed in a DWI, the alleged offender could face a more extensive criminal record.
Once a person is officially convicted of a DWI in Texas, it is almost impossible to have it expunged or sealed. There are, however, ways to secure expungement before charges are pressed, so it is essential to contact an experienced defense lawyer as soon as possible.
What Is a DWI?
DWI stands for Driving While Intoxicated. It is a criminal offense punishable by fines, license suspension, and jail time to varying degrees. The official definition of Driving While Intoxicated, according to Texas law, is when a person does not have normal use or control of their mental or physical faculties- or both- because of alcohol or drug consumption.
In most cases, a DWI arrest comes from a person driving with a BAC (blood alcohol content) above the legal limit, which is 0.08 in Texas. However, it can also apply to a person driving who is on drugs- prescription or illicit- or is impaired from the use of a controlled substance.
To summarize, if a person drives a car while not capable of full control because of something they have consumed, they could face a DWI charge.
Is It the Same as a DUI?
A DUI charge (driving under the influence) is only applicable to minors in Texas. In many states, the two terms are used interchangeably. If a person receives a DUI conviction before their 18th birthday, they can apply for expungement once they are a legal adult.
Expungement is usually only approved if it was a one-time offense and the person in question has no other criminal convictions.
How Long Does a DWI Conviction Stay on Your Criminal Record in Texas?
In short, unless there are extenuating circumstances, a DWI conviction stays on a person's record forever. There is no time when an existing charge stops being relevant to any future charges. It holds the same clout no matter how long ago it happened.
If, for example, a person is charged with their first DWI when they are 19, then a second when they are 59: it still counts as a repeat offense and is charged accordingly.
Degrees of DWI Convictions in Texas
Here are the penalties and how much jail time you get for a DUI in every degree of offense.
Class B Misdemeanor
A first-time DWI is categorized as a Class B misdemeanor- as long as the driver does not have a BAC of more than 0.15. The maximum fine in this type of DWI charge is $2000, plus a $1000 surcharge for three years.
The driver's license can be revoked for anything between 90 days to one year, and they could face up to 180 days in jail.
Class A Misdemeanor
A second offense DWI conviction is a Class A misdemeanor, as is a first-time offense with a high blood alcohol content of more than 0.15 (almost double the legal limit). The reason this is classed differently is that it is considered reckless driving.
If charged with a Class A misdemeanor DWI, the court-imposed fees can reach up to $4000 upfront, then a subsequent annual surcharge of $1500 to $2000 for three years.
Jail sentences vary depending on the circumstances. If the DWI offense is a first conviction with a high BAC, the minimum jail sentence is 72 hours, and the maximum is one year. A second offense, however, demands a minimum of 30 days in jail, up to a maximum of a year. The driver's license must also be suspended for at least 3o days to two years.
There are four levels of felony offenses that a Texas DWI can lead to:
State jail Felony: DWI with a child passenger. Maximum two years of jail time in a state facility and a license suspension with the same max period. The penalty is up to $10,000 with a three-year surcharge of $2000. It can also lead to child endangerment charges.
Third-degree felony: Third-time DWI conviction or a DWI motor vehicle accident that causes serious bodily injury. Punishment includes up to 10 years in jail, a two-year license suspension, a maximum of $10,000 in fines, and a three-year surcharge of $1500.
Second-degree felony: Three or more DWI convictions with previous incarceration or a DWI accident that causes a fatality. Interestingly, their charges carry the same maximum penalties as a third-degree felony.
Enhanced felony punishment: Three or more DWI with two prior trips to the penitentiary. If a driver goes to jail twice for a DWI then commits a third offense, they face 25 to life in jail.
If a driver is charged with a DWI felony, there is no possibility to ever have it removed from their criminal record.
Other Consequences of a DWI Conviction
Having a DWI on the record forever can have many negative effects on a person's life. There is a stigma about this type of offense that is difficult to shake off.
Like any criminal record, a DWI can interfere with employment possibilities for the rest of a person's life. An added disadvantage is the exceptionally high insurance prices. In some cases in Texas, a driver may be required to install an ignition interlock device, which can help with insurance costs.
Can You Get a DWI Conviction Sealed or Expunged?
Getting a DWI expunged in Texas is a steep task. Once a person has a criminal conviction for drunk driving, it is almost impossible to get rid of it.
To have any chance of getting a DWI conviction expunged or sealed, the offender in question must speak with an expert DWI lawyer. Texas law allows very little room for any possibility of clearing DWI records.
It is also worth noting that, in most cases, even an expunged DWI stays on the court record forever.
Offense Committed as a Minor (One-Off)
In Texas, a DUI or DWI committed before a person turns 18 is applicable for expungement once they become a legal adult. The record can be sealed if it was a one-time offense and there are no other convictions in their criminal history.
No Official Charges are Brought
A DWI arrest can be sealed if no formal charges are given. If the alleged offender, for whatever reason, is punished and released without any official criminal conviction, they can apply to have the arrest and court proceedings hidden from public view.
It is not usually a simple course of action to have this removed, as it still counts as a DWI incident. However, an experienced Fort Worth DUI attorney can help make it happen.
Deferred adjudication usually applies to first offense DWIs with no prior convictions for any other criminal activity. It means that the judge delays the hearing for a set length of time, with conditions applied to how the alleged offender must behave during that time.
Conditions may include community service, a fine, no driving, regular breath testing, and no criminal activity of any kind. If the person adheres to all conditions set by the judge for the entire time, the case can then be dismissed.
Straight probation for a Texas DWI is one possible option to avoid a criminal conviction. The offender must plead guilty or no contest before the judge and complete a mandatory probation period (in or out of jail) set by the court.
Once the probation is complete, the judge can then drop the charges.
When to Hire a DWI Defense Lawyer
Simply put, the answer to how long does a DWI stay on your record is: forever, unless you have excellent legal guidance from the very beginning. A criminal defense lawyer can help with DWI convictions, but they must get in as early as possible.
It is much easier to avoid a lifelong record if you can pursue an option that avoids criminal conviction from the get-go. If you are facing a drunk driving conviction, the time to hire a DWI defense lawyer is now- as soon as possible.
Don't Delay: Contact Sparks Law Firm Today to Arrange a Free Consultation!
You want the best Texas DWI lawyer in the business working on your behalf, and there is nobody better in Fort Worth than Sparks Law Firm. Our incredible team of industry-leading lawyers is dedicated, driven, and ready to use every avenue of the law to fight your case.
Call now for a free case evaluation and get yourself in the best position to fight a life-long criminal record.