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  • Writer's pictureJustin Sparks

Is Jail Time Mandatory for 1st DWI in Texas?

Drunk driving is a perilous decision—not just for the driver but anyone they end up sharing the road with. Therefore, to discourage drivers, many states doll out harsh punishments for those who choose to get behind the wheel with alcohol in their system.

In Texas, driving while intoxicated can net a driver a whopping $10,000 fine, a suspended license, and between 2 and 20 years in federal prison. However, this is the worst penalty Texas reserves for offenders that have had multiple DWI charges in the past. The state is much easier on first-time offenders.

The courts limit their punishment to a smaller fine and a maximum of 72h in county jail. While this is significantly less harsh, first-timers may wonder, ‘is jail time mandatory for 1st DWI in Texas?’ Fighting a DWI conviction in Texas is tricky since DWI can even be considered a felony depending on the circumstance. But with the right help, first-time offenders can make sure they get the lightest possible sentence.

How Texas Penalizes a First DWI

How Texas Penalizes a First DWI

When it comes to punishing DWIs, Texas isn’t easy on offenders. The state has a ‘Zero tolerance’ law that forbids anyone with any trace amounts of alcohol to get in a vehicle. They also rank 13th on a list of states with the harshest DWI punishments.

However, Texas courts are quite lenient toward minors. Young adults under the age of 18 who are found to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 can only catch a DUI charge. Driving under the influence only applies to operating a vehicle while intoxicated on alcohol. It, therefore, necessitates milder punishments which include a $500 fine, a suspended license, and between 20 to 40h of community service.

A DWI, on the other hand, includes intoxication on controlled substances, like illegal drugs. What's more, Texas only charges DWI to adults, meaning that courts treat it as a greater offense. First, they class it as a Class B Misdemeanor. Depending on the driver’s BAL, a DWI can also involve a $2,000 fine and a suspended license for 90‒365 days.

Nonetheless, it's important to note that even first-timers can catch a harsher punishment for a DWI. If the driver caused an accident, or if they were driving with a child passenger, they can easily face the same punishment as a third-time offender.

These include a $10,000 fine, a suspended license, and 2‒20 years in jail. In cases where the accident resulted in someone’s death, a driver may even face life in prison on an intoxicated manslaughter charge.

Is Jail Time Mandatory for 1st DWI in Texas?

While a first-time DWI normally involves a 72h stay in county jail, serving jail time isn’t mandatory. A first-time offense doesn't have a minimum required sentence. What’s more, depending on the driver’s previous criminal record, a Texas judge can opt to probate their sentence. Subsequently, the driver can avoid jail time altogether on two conditions:

If they can meet their bail — The judge is the one who decides how much a driver’s bail will be. However, for first-time offenders, the amount usually doesn’t exceed $5,000.

If they abide by the conditions of their probation — If they do meet bail, offending drivers are expected to strictly abide by the terms of their probation. This most often implies avoiding any further charges and staying within their community so that a supervising officer can keep track of them. How long their probation lasts will depend on the judge. In Texas, this is usually between 6 months to 2 years for first-time offenders.

Nonetheless, it’s important to note that first-timers can’t always avoid incarceration. If the court chooses to elevate the charges, then the driver will be looking at mandatory jail time. Not only that, but the courts may also charge them with Administrative License Revocation penalties. A driver can be charged with them if they refuse to take a breath test or fail a chemical test.

Final Thoughts

Texas is quite harsh when it comes to punishing DWIs. The state charges even first-time offenders with steep fines and up to 3 days of jail time. However, many often wonder if jail time is mandatory for 1st DWI in Texas.

The answer is that it depends. Judges will look at two things when deciding if they’re going to probate the driver — an offender’s criminal record, as well as what led the police officer to pull them over.

So, in order to avoid incarceration, drivers need to do two things. First, they need to inform themselves about Texas DWI laws. Moreover, they need to hire an experienced DWI attorney to fight their corner and get them the fairest possible sentence. Having a good one by your side can guarantee whether or not can a DWI be dismissed in Texas.


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