DWI in Texas

What is a DWI in Texas?

Texas views impaired driving as a DWI and a crime against public health, safety, and morals under its Penal Code. Although the public may occasionally use the DUI term, the state hardly uses it except when describing drunk driving offenses committed by minors (persons under 21). In that scenario, the crime will be referred to as Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol by a Minor, DUIA by a Minor, or simply "DUI".

Regardless of the charge brought against a person or a person's age, any alcohol-related offense in Texas comes with legal repercussions and administrative license actions. As such, an offender may find themselves incurring penalties from the courts and the Department of Public Safety, including license suspensions or revocations, jail time, and fines.

Also, given that a DWI offense is a crime in Texas, individuals may face other consequences due to their arrest or conviction. This includes career pitfalls and challenges in finding someone to hire them, admit them into an educational institution, or rent them an apartment or space. Furthermore, an offender's insurance company may recalculate their auto insurance premium and offer the coverage at a higher rate, this is alongside other associated implications of having a Texas DWI in their Texas criminal record.

A DUI means "Driving Under the Influence". It describes an offense of driving a motor vehicle, watercraft, aircraft after consuming intoxicating liquors or drugs (prescription, over-the-counter, or illicit drugs).

In the United States, a jurisdiction may call a drunk driving offense a DUI, and another may call it a DWI (short for "Driving While Impaired or Intoxicated"). Also, these terms may have the same or a separate meaning in some states, and in others, a different acronym may be used instead—for example, OUI (operating under the influence), OMVI (operating a motor vehicle intoxicated), etc.

What is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in Texas?

A DUI or DWI is a legal term that describes a drunk or drugged driving offense. Some US states prefer one term (DUI/DWI) over the other, while some use both acronyms interchangeably or use one to describe a less severe offense.

In Texas, the official term for an impaired driving offense is DWI. The state uses the DUI acronym only in one instance—when imposing penalties on minors pulled over for consuming alcohol and driving.

As such, the main difference between a DUI and DWI in Texas is the offender's age: a DUI pertains to drunk driving offenses committed by minors, while a DWI applies to offenders aged 21 or older. (However, minors can still be prosecuted as adults on DWI charges.) There is no other official use for the DUI term in the state.

Texas DWI Laws

Texas compiles its DWI and DUI laws under Title 10, Chapter 49 of the Penal Code, and Title 4, Chapter 106 of the Alcoholic Beverage Code, respectively.

Under these laws, an individual can be arrested or charged with a DWI if found operating a vehicle in a public place, a watercraft, or an aircraft while intoxicated. This manner of intoxication refers to the lack of mental or physical capacity to drive or operate a vehicle due to the consumption of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both. However, a person can also be accused of a DWI in Texas if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08% or above (.04% or above for commercial drivers).

Furthermore, under Section 106.041 of the Alcoholic Beverage Code, minors can be charged with a DUI if found operating a vehicle in a public place or a watercraft after consuming any amount of alcohol that can be detected in their system.

Apart from the regular DUI and DWI charges, an individual can be charged with "intoxication manslaughter" or "intoxication assault" if a DWI offense led to a person's death or resulted in serious bodily injury to another person.

Intoxication manslaughter

Per Section 49.08 of the Texas Penal Code, "intoxication manslaughter" occurs when someone operates a vehicle in a public place, a watercraft, an aircraft, an amusement ride, or assembles a mobile amusement ride while intoxicated, and that intoxication causes another person's death (whether by accident or mistake).

Intoxication assault

"Intoxication assault" takes place when an individual operates a motor vehicle in a public area, a watercraft, an aircraft, an amusement ride, or assembles a mobile amusement ride while intoxicated, and that intoxication causes serious bodily injury to someone else (Tex. Penal Code § 49.07).

In Texas, different agencies are responsible for enforcing drunk driving laws and punishing offenders. Among them are the courts, the Department of Public Safety (DPS), and law enforcement agencies. The courts deal with the criminal prosecution of persons arrested by the police, while the DPS manages license suspension or revocation matters.

DWI Penalties in Texas

Any person arrested or charged with a DWI offense in Texas may incur the following penalties:

  • Jail time
  • Driver's license suspension
  • Fines
  • Probation
  • Participation in an alcohol or drug abuse educational program
  • Community service
  • Compulsory use of an ignition interlock device

Additional penalties

For any DWI offense, the courts will impose more penalties on an offender, along with the original DWI penalties, if:

  • The individual declined a chemical test to check for traces of alcohol or drugs in their blood.
  • The individual had a child under 15 in the passenger seat at the time of the offense.
  • An open container was found in the offender's vehicle.

Refusing to submit to a chemical test can result in license suspensions, and the court may hold the offender in jail until they post a bond or appear before a judge or magistrate. If the DWI occurred when a child under 15 was in the passenger seat, it is a state jail felony, and the defaulter will be:

  • Charged with child endangerment
  • Fined an additional amount of up to $10,000
  • Put in jail for a period not exceeding 2 years
  • Made to lose their driver's license for another 180 days

If an open container was found in the vehicle, the offender will be subject to the Texas open container laws and charged with a Class C misdemeanor.

What Happens When You Get a DUI in Texas?

A DUI is the lesser impaired driving offense in Texas, and the penalties are imposed only on people under the age of 21. It is also referred to as a DUIA (Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol) by a Minor. Typically, the DUI penalties apply regardless of the underage driver's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) because Texas has zero-tolerance for underage drinking and driving.

A first-offense DUI in Texas is a Class C misdemeanor. Arrested minors will face:

  • Up to $500 in fines
  • Driver's license suspension for 60 days
  • Compulsory alcohol awareness course
  • 20 to 40-hour community service

A second DUI offense is also a Class C misdemeanor. However, the punishment will be enhanced:

  • Up to $500 in fines
  • Driver's license suspension for at least 120 days to a maximum of 2 years
  • Compulsory alcohol awareness course
  • 40 to 60-hour community service

A third DUI offense by an individual who is below 17 years old is a Class C misdemeanor that results in:

  • A fine of up to $500
  • Driver's license suspension for 180 days or more, but not above 2 years
  • Compulsory alcohol awareness course
  • 40 to 60-hour community service

There is no jail sentence for the first, second, or third DUI offense. However, if the third-time offender is 17 years or older, but under 21, and found with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or greater, the courts will assess penalties fitting of a Class B misdemeanor against such a person:

  • A jail sentence not exceeding 180 days
  • A fine not below $500 and not above $2,000
  • Driver's license suspension for a year or 90 days with the installation of an ignition interlock device.
  • Mandatory alcohol awareness course
  • 40 to 60-hour community service

What Happens When You Get a DWI for the First Time in Texas?

The punishment for a first DWI in Texas is imposed regardless of an offender's age. An adult (21 years old or higher) or a minor can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor and may be liable to:

  • A fine not to exceed $2,000
  • At least 72 hours (3 days) in jail, but not beyond 180 days. However, if an individual was found with an open container of an alcoholic beverage in their vehicle, the jail mandatory minimum increases to 6 days.
  • Driver's license suspension for 90 days or more, but not over a year

For a first offense, the court may put an offender on probation instead of sentencing them to jail and waive the license suspension period. Also, the charge can be upped to a Class A misdemeanor if the driver had a blood alcohol concentration of .15% or more.

What is the Penalty for a Second DWI in Texas?

Committing a second DWI offense in Texas makes a person guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. The penalties include:

  • A fine of up to $4,000
  • Driver's license forfeiture for 180 days to 2 years
  • At least one month in jail, but not beyond a year

What Happens After a Third DWI in Texas?

According to Tex. Penal Code § 49.09, any individual who commits a third or subsequent DWI in Texas is guilty of a third-degree felony. The penalties include:

  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Imprisonment for 2 to 10 years
  • Driver's license suspension for 180 days or more, but not above 2 years

Furthermore, it is a felony of the third degree if the drinking and driving act resulted in someone else's serious bodily injury (also known as "intoxication assault"), except as stated by Tex. Penal Code § 49.09 (b-1). The above penalties also apply for a third or subsequent DWI if one of the previous charges was intoxication manslaughter or a similar out-of-state offense (where the drunk driving offense led to someone's death).

It should be noted that, ordinarily, intoxication manslaughter is a second-degree felony, attracting:

  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Imprisonment for 2 to 20 years
  • Driver's license suspension for 180 days or more, but not beyond 2 years

However, if the person who died was a firefighter, emergency medical services personnel, peace officer, or judge on official duty, the charge becomes a felony of the first degree.

How Long Does a DWI Stay on Your Record in Texas?

A DWI will remain on a person's driving record permanently in Texas. The same goes for a DWI conviction on someone's criminal record.

Texas views drunk driving as a criminal offense. Therefore, getting convicted of a DWI means that the offense will be indefinitely displayed on one's criminal record. As such, anyone who runs a criminal background check will be able to see the conviction.

The only remedy for an affected party is to petition the court to seal or expunge the DWI conviction. However, the petitioner must qualify for an expunction or sealing in the state.

DWI Expungement in Texas

There are two ways to prevent a DWI charge or conviction from showing on a criminal record in Texas. One is to petition the court for nondisclosure (otherwise called "sealing"), and the other option is to petition for an expungement (or removal).

A nondisclosure allows an individual to seal their DWI conviction and prevent members of the public from viewing it, including any employer, landlord, or other people who check the record owner's criminal background. On the other hand, an expungement wipes a DWI charge from a person's criminal record, as if it never happened.

To seal a DWI conviction entered by a Texas court, an individual (now the petitioner) must satisfy the conditions of Tex. Gov. Code § 411.0731:

  • It was the petitioner's first DWI offense, and the offense was not a Class A misdemeanor.
  • The petitioner's blood alcohol concentration was below .15% when tested.
  • The petitioner was placed on probation following a DWI conviction, and that probation was not revoked.
  • The petitioner served any imposed sentence in full, whether it was a jail term, payment of fines, probation, or license suspension period.
  • The petitioner has no prior conviction and is not in deferred adjudication for another criminal offense that is not a minor traffic violation.
  • The petitioner has satisfied the mandatory waiting period:
    • Two years post-probation (If the petitioner satisfied the condition of using a vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock for at least 6 months during the probation period.)
    • Five years post-probation (If the petitioner was not ordered to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle during the probation period, or if the interlock device was installed for less than 6 months.)
  • The petitioner includes evidence that he or she is entitled to request nondisclosure from the court.

Interested parties can obtain the instructions and forms for the nondisclosure process from the Texas Judicial Branch's website.

In contrast, no one can expunge a DWI conviction in Texas, but it may be possible to erase an acquitted or dismissed DWI charge from a criminal record. The eligibility criteria for a DWI expungement include:

  • The DWI charges were never filed.
  • The offender was arrested as a minor for a DUI, and the individual satisfied all court orders.
  • The court dismissed the case.
  • The petitioner appealed the DWI conviction and won.
  • A judge or jury entered a "not-guilty" verdict.

Bear in mind that meeting the above standards does not automatically guarantee one's DWI expungement. For this, it is advisable to retain a qualified lawyer to help with the legal process.

How Likely is Jail Time After a First DWI in Texas?

Very likely. Any person charged with a first DWI offense in Texas will incur a term of confinement of 72 hours or more, but not above 180 days. However, if the individual is a minor and the charge is a DUI (also called "Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol" or DUIA), the state courts do not impose any jail sentence.

What is the Average Cost of DWI in Texas?

The financial impact of a DWI arrest or conviction in Texas varies by case and the county/city where a person is convicted. Hence, it is not easy to estimate the sum that one is likely to spend on a DWI charge.

Typically, the total cost (both direct and collateral) of a DWI reaches thousands of dollars. For instance, the criminal fines alone can come up to $2,000 for a first DWI offense, $4,000 for the second offense, and $10,000 for a third or subsequent offense (or if the charge is intoxication manslaughter or assault).

Other costs include:

  • Court costs
  • Lawyer fees
  • Vehicle towing and impound fees
  • Bail bonds
  • Ignition interlock device costs
  • Driver's license suspension costs, including the subsequent costs of transportation and license recovery fees
  • Increased auto insurance costs
  • Counseling costs
  • Lost income
  • Probation fees
  • Restitution costs

The Texas Department of Transportation estimates that a DUI can cost an individual up to $17,000 in legal fees, fines, and other costs, but the total can easily be below or above that number.

How Much is Bail for a DWI in Texas?

Individuals arrested for a DWI or DUI in Texas may have to meet certain conditions to be released. One of them is to pay bail. Per Article 17.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, "bail" is the security offered by the accused that guarantees the individual's appearance in court to answer the accusations brought against them, and it includes a personal bond or bail bond.

In Texas, DWI arrestees are rarely released on personal bond (i.e., a written promise to appear in court later), also known as “personal recognizance”. Instead, the state uses a bail bond system, where the accused or his /her family can post bail, or a bail bondsman can post bail on behalf of the accused. In any case, if the defendant (the accused) appears in court, this money will be returned.

Several factors determine how much a person will spend on bail for a DWI in Texas. Among them are:

  • Past DWI convictions
  • Any other conviction that indicates that the defendant is a danger to the community
  • Risk of fleeing the state to avoid the charge
  • Willingness to submit to a mandatory chemical test to determine blood alcohol content
  • If aggravating factors are present in the DWI charge (e.g., serious bodily injury, resisting arrest)

For a first DWI offense, bail can cost up to $1,500 if none of the above apply. This amount typically increases with subsequent DWI arrests. However, bear in mind that judges have the authority to increase or decrease bail amounts in Texas.

How to Get My License Back After a DWI in Texas?

Anyone whose license was suspended or revoked due to a DWI or DUI in Texas can get back their license by applying to the Department of Public Safety for reinstatement. This will involve paying off certain fees (including the reinstatement fee) and submitting some compliance items or documents to the Department.

The necessary paperwork and fees vary by driver's license and can be obtained by logging into the Department's license eligibility site. To open the site, an individual must provide their date of birth, driver's license or ID number, and the last 4 numbers of their social security number. After logging in, it will be possible to see the compliance requirements and pay the reinstatement fees via the platform (if one does not want to pay via mail).

The compliance documents that may be required include:

  • Certificate of completion of drug or alcohol education program
  • Proof of financial responsibility (also called SR-22)

Note that the compliance items must be submitted by mail, fax, or email. The agency's FAQ, driver license reinstatement, and reinstatement fees web pages can be accessed for more information and the mail, fax, and email addresses for submission.

How Does a DWI Affect Your Life in Texas?

A DWI conviction in Texas results in a criminal record. As is the norm with people who have criminal records, opportunities that were once available become scarce.

For a person with a DWI conviction, the repercussions do not usually end with those imposed by the court and the Department of Public Safety. Such a person may also suffer other consequences as a result of the conviction, including:

  • Loss of professional licenses (e.g., pilot, medical, CPA (Certified Public Accountant), and teaching licenses)
  • Loss of job
  • Increased car insurance rates
  • Limited job opportunities
  • Limited college or scholarship opportunities
  • Difficulty in renting a house
  • Difficulty in obtaining a loan
  • Inability to travel to Canada or a foreign country
  • Loss of the right to vote and right to own/use a firearm (usually in felony DWI cases such as intoxication assault, or intoxication manslaughter)
  • Loss of custodial rights

Can You Get Fired for a DWI in Texas?

Absolutely. Employers can fire their staff in Texas because of criminal convictions, and a DWI or DUI is no exception. There are no Texas laws that protect employees who are arrested or convicted of a DWI, nor are there any prohibiting employers from taking such actions against their staff.

Texas is an employment-at-will state. As such, unless there is an express agreement in one's employment contract or a statute (which there is not) preventing termination due to a DUI arrest or conviction, the likelihood of job loss is high. Most especially, if the DWI arrest or conviction can be interpreted as an inability to do one's job.

How Do I Find DWI Checkpoints in Texas?

DWI (or sobriety) checkpoints are barricades set up on a road or highway by law enforcement to curb drunk or drugged driving habits. In the US, the legality of sobriety checkpoints is a controversial topic in many states, leading some to declare them unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment or their statutes.

The State of Texas maintains that DWI checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment. It is illegal for the police to establish such checkpoints to check drivers for intoxication. As such, any evidence obtained from such locations is inadmissible in court. However, the law does not prevent the police from stopping or detaining a driver if they suspect that the individual is impaired by drugs or alcohol.

Which is Worse, DUI vs. DWI?

In Texas, a DWI is worse than a DUI. DUI charges are imposed solely on minors under the Alcoholic Beverage Code. On the other hand, DWI charges are levied on adults under the Penal Code. However, if the crime fits (e.g., BAC of .08% or more), minors can be charged with a DWI as well.

A DUI charge will not typically result in jail time or a heavy fine. The same cannot be said for a DWI charge in Texas, which being prosecuted under Penal Code, comes with lengthy imprisonment terms and high fines, among other repercussions.