Is a DWI a Serious Charge?

Is a DWI a Serious Charge? Some crimes are more serious than others. After all, one would take being convicted of disorderly conduct over being convicted of murder, but often even the less serious charges have long-lasting and life-changing repercussions. Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a serious offense under any circumstance, but people often take it lightly because of how common it is. It is portrayed on television shows as someone getting a ticket or spending a night in jail, but they don’t show all the tedious and stressful consequences of receiving a DWI charge.

What does DWI look like in Texas?

In Texas, a DWI is different from a DUI, in that a “DWI is a criminal charge for driving with a .08% BAC or higher in a public place. You can also be arrested for DWI if you appear to be physically or mentally impaired by drugs or alcohol, even if you’re under a .08 BAC.” This is in comparison to a DUI/DUIA, which is reserved for minors and juveniles. Texas has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinkers, so anyone under the age of 21 can be arrested and charged with DUIA if there is ANY detectable amount of alcohol in his or her system while operating a motor vehicle.

A DWI is one of the most common offenses in Texas. In 2018, more than 900 fatalities related to drunk driving were reported by the Texas Department of Transportation. In a study done by a driver’s education company called Zutobi, Texas was reported to be in fifth place for the worst drunk driving state in the country. According to the study, 37 percent of all road fatalities are a result of drunk driving here in Texas. That’s in comparison to the rest of the country, with only 28 percent of fatalities attributed to driving while intoxicated.

These statistics are the reason why our state has such strict DWI laws, and if you’re facing charges, it’s important to know understand the penalties.

What are the penalties for DWI?

A DWI charge can be more than a fine and a year in jail. Melissa Peoples learned that the hard way. In 2021, Peoples was driving drunk when she killed a prominent San Antonio surgeon Dr. Naji Kayruz, leaving his wife a widow. Peoples was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. While drunk driving is obviously dangerous to you and those around you, even if you do not kill anyone when driving while intoxicated, if you are pulled over and arrested, the consequences of having a DWI on your record can follow you the rest of your life, and can inhibit your chances at a good job or seeking an education.

When charged with a DWI, the court will take into consideration whether this is your first offense. This fact will change how you will be sentenced.

  • First offense: The penalties for a first-time DWI conviction with less than a 0.15 blood alcohol content (BAC) include fines up to $2,000 and between three and 180 days in jail. Not only will you receive jail time, but you’ll also have your license suspended for up to a year. This is as a Class B misdemeanor. However, if your BAC was 0.15 or more, the offense is a Class A misdemeanor. This means your fines will increase to up to $4,000 and jail time of up to one year.
  • Second offense: If this is your second DWI offense, the fine increases to $4,000 and you can face jail time from 30 days to one year. There are additional fees as well that increase based on your circumstances. You’ll likely have to install an ignition interlock device, and there are fees associated with that as well. Your driver’s license can be suspended anywhere from 180 days to two years. This is a Class A misdemeanor.

These are just the base penalties; felony DWI penalties increase in severity drastically. According to Texas Penal Code Title 10, felony DWI convictions are penalized as following:

  • Intoxication assault: Intoxication assault is when you cause someone serious bodily injury while operating a vehicle under the influence. Serious bodily injury is a precise legal term that means an injury which “creates a substantial risk of death or that causes serious permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.” This charge is a third-degree felony.
  • Intoxication manslaughter: This is a second-degree felony. Intoxication manslaughter is when someone operating a vehicle under the influence causes someone’s death. No intent is necessary for this charge.
  • Third-time offense: This is a third-degree felony. “Penalties can include fines up to $10,000, loss of license from 180 days to two years, and two to 10 years in prison. Driver’s license fees can be assessed between $1,000 and $2,000 on a yearly basis, and you may be required to install an ignition interlock device.” If you are convicted of a felony, this can result in the loss of the right to own a firearm, as well as other collateral consequences.
  • Driving while intoxicated with a child passenger: If you are driving while intoxicated and have a passenger who is younger than fifteen, if you are arrested, you could be charged with DWI with a Child Passenger. This is an enhanced charge, and is a state jail felony. Its penalties include fines up to $10,000, and between 180 days to two years in jail.

As you can see, the legal penalties of a DWI are varied and can land you in some serious trouble. You might also have to pay a “Superfine” if you were arrested for DWI after Sept. 1, 2019, later convicted for the DWI and NOT placed on probation. Under Texas Transportation Code § 709.001, the fine is:

  1. $3,000 for the first conviction within a 36-month period;
  2. $4,500 for a second or subsequent conviction within a 36-month period; and
  3. $6,000 for a first or subsequent conviction if it is shown on the trial of the offense that an analysis of a specimen of the person’s blood, breath, or urine showed an alcohol concentration level of 0.15 or more at the time the analysis was performed.

Not only are the legal penalties serious, but so are the consequences this conviction can have on your life. It can affect whether you get a job, as employers look at your criminal history before hiring you. The same applies with prospective schools and colleges. Both of these institutions are going to choose someone with a clean record over someone who has a DWI charge.

When you’re out having fun, it’s best to get a ride home from someone who is sober rather than trying to drive yourself. The penalties are simply not worth it, and certainly the risk of injuring or killing yourself or someone else while driving far outweighs the perceived convenience of driving yourself somewhere. However, if you made a mistake, then you need the legal representation of a skilled attorney to help you lessen any penalties you might receive. At Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm, we have knowledgeable and experienced lawyers who can help you. Call us today at 254-680-4655. Our offices are located in Killeen and Copperas Cove in Central Texas. Feel free to fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment.