Getting behind the wheel when intoxicated is never a good idea. Drunk driving is extremely dangerous and makes drivers more prone to accidents. However, despite the dangers, people make mistakes.
Whether it's after a long night of partying or after a holiday gathering, many choose to get in their car with a few drinks in their system. If they’re fortunate enough to avoid getting into any accidents, intoxicated drivers face another issue — getting stopped by police and charged with a DWI.
A DWI, or driving while intoxicated, is an offense where a driver operates a vehicle while impaired, thus putting themselves and others at risk. While a DWI is a serious felony all over the US, every state punishes intoxicated drivers differently.
Texas, for example, can punish intoxicated drivers in several ways, depending on a number of external factors. So what is the punishment for a DWI in Texas? Drivers facing a DWI need to inform themselves of exactly what this offense will cost them in the Lone Star State.
DUI vs. DWI: What Is the Difference?
When discussing punishments for intoxicated driving, it's important to establish the difference between a DWI and a DUI. Driving under the influence refers to operating a vehicle while intoxicated on alcohol. On the other hand, driving while intoxicated includes alcohol and other controlled substances, such as illegal drugs.
Texas views a DWI as a much more serious offense than a DUI. A DUI is only chargeable to minors and classes as a Class C misdemeanor under the Texas Traffic Code. As such, it only incurs a penalty of around $500, a suspended license, and around 20-40 hours of community service.
In contrast, Texas charges adults over the age of 21 with a DWI. The courts class this offense as a Class B misdemeanor and levy it using the Texas Penal Code. Therefore, it's much more severe than a DUI. What’s more, it comes with several hefty penalties like a $2,000(or more) fine and over 180 days of jail time.
What Is the Punishment for DWI in Texas?
A DWI on its own is already a very serious offense. However, several factors can exacerbate the penalties for this crime.
1. The Number of Prior Offenses
As with most felonies, the number of previous offenses will greatly influence the kind of punishment a driver receives. First-time offenders receive the lightest penalties in the Lone Star State.
Their punishment involves a $2,000 fine, between 3-180 days of jail time, a suspended license, and an annual fee of between $1,000-$3,000 to retain a driver’s license. If this DWI is the driver’s second offense, Texas courts will class it as a Class A misdemeanor. The fine will double to $4,000, and the driver will lose their license for 180 days.
Third-time DWIs involve the most severe penalties. Texas classes them as felonies meaning that the driver is looking at a minimum of 3 years in prison instead of a county jail. What’s more, a third-time offense comes with a staggering $10,000 fine, a two year suspended license, and additional consequences such as:
● A probation period with up to 600 hours of community service
● Loss of employment
● Difficulty finding housing
● Loss of certain government benefits
● Losing the right to bear firearms.
2. Blood Alcohol Level and Other Intoxicating Substances
Another factor that can impact the severity of the penalty is just how intoxicated the driver was when they were pulled over. In order for Texas courts to convict someone of a DWI, the driver needs to have a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.08%.
A BAC level of 0.15% is considered a severe impairment, and the courts will treat the offense as a Class A felony. The most severe is a BAC of 0.20%, which Texas classes as super extreme impairment. It also carries the heftiest punishment. Apart from alcohol, the presence of other controlled substances can also elevate the charges.
3. Any Accidents Caused
Possibly the most serious factor to consider is if the driver caused any accidents while driving under the influence. If the collision merely injured another person, Texas courts will treat the offense as a third-degree felony.
The driver will face the same penalties as a third-time offender. Additionally, they will have to cover the injured party’s medical bills, as well as any other damages they may seek. However, if the accident resulted in someone’s death, the courts will charge the driver with a second-degree felony. The punishment for this is a fine of a minimum of $10,000 and between 2-20 years in federal prison.
What is the punishment for a DWI in Texas? The answer to that question is complicated and depends on several factors. For starters, a DWI is a serious offense that comes with some hefty penalties. However, the severity of these penalties will depend on several circumstances, such as the driver’s age, the number of previous offenses, their BAL, and if they caused any accidents.
To stay on top of their DWI, drivers should inform themselves of the specifics of Texas laws. What’s more, they should work closely with an experienced DWI lawyer so that they can mount the strongest defense possible.