DWI in Texas Everything You Should Know
The Law Offices of Clyde W. Burleson, P.C.
Editor’s note: An arrest for driving while intoxicated/driving under the influence can have a devastating impact on a Soldier’s military career. This article focuses on a state with one of the largest military footprints — Texas. The costs vary by county.
Most Texans have no idea what is required to be charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) in the Lone Star State. According to Texas Penal Code 49.01(2), the definition of "Intoxicated" is two-fold:
- You lacked the normal use of mental or physical faculties due to the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more substances, or any other substance in the body; or
- You had a breath or blood alcohol concentration that exceeds the legal limit of .08 percent
What this means for any Texas driver is that you can be charged with DWI even if you are well below the state limit of a .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC). More so, it is completely up to the arresting officer what the “normal use of mental or physical faculties” means. Ultimately, if they think you’re drunk, they can arrest you and you will be forced to defend yourself in a court of law to avoid the associated costs and penalties. It’s the duality of how you can be charged in Texas that should make all drivers cautious of driving after consuming any amount of alcohol.
DWI penalties in Texas
Texas doesn’t play around when it comes to penalties for DWI, with fines up to $20,000 and up to 20 years in jail for extreme offenders. However, the state isn’t kind to first-time offenders either.
- A first-time DWI conviction is a Class B misdemeanor with penalties up to $5,000 in fines, six months in county jail and license suspension of one year. If your BAC is over .15 percent, fines can reach $10,000 and jail time may be as long as one year.
- A second DWI conviction is a Class A misdemeanor with penalties up to $8,500 in fines, one year in county jail and license suspension of one year. If your BAC is over .15 percent, fines can reach $10,000.
- A third DWI conviction is a third-degree felony with penalties up to $10,000 in fines, 10 years in the Texas Department of Corrections (prison) and license suspension of two years.
- A fourth DWI conviction is a second-degree felony with penalties up to $20,000 in fines and 20 years in the Texas Department of Corrections.
In addition, all the penalties mentioned above get exponentially worse if any of these scenarios are met:
- DWI with a child passenger – The driver was transporting a child under 15 years of age. Not only do penalties for DWI get more severe, but the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services may initiate removal of the child from the driver’s custody.
- Intoxication assault – The driver’s actions caused an injury that caused permanent disfigurement or loss of function for any body member or organ.
- Intoxication manslaughter – The driver’s actions accidentally caused the death of another person.
- Enhanced offenses – If the victim of intoxication assault or intoxication manslaughter is a firefighter, emergency medical technician, peace officer or judge, the charge can be elevated to a first-degree felony. The true cost of a DWI arrest in Texas
A DWI in Texas is costly. You’ve already read that court-imposed fines can be as high as $20,000. However, the true cost of a DWI in Texas is much higher when you consider other factors beyond the punitive fines imposed by the court. The following are some of the more common costs associated with DWI in Texas.
- Lawyer ($5,000+). While the court will offer you a public defender at no cost, the old adage, “You get what you pay for,” applies. Costs will vary based on prior DWIs, BAC level, enhanced offenses, number of court appearances, witness fees and more. The national average is approximately $6,500.
- Vehicle towing and impoundment ($350+). When you are arrested, your vehicle will be towed to an impound lot and kept until you come get it. A standard fee for towing is $300, and a daily impound fee of $25 is common.
- Bail ($1,000+). Like much of what we’re discussing here, your bail will depend on a lot of variables. A first-time offender will rarely pay more than $1,000, but this cost goes up quickly with multiple DWIs, BAC level, injuries and death.
- Administrative license revocation hearing ($200+). After a DWI arrest, you only have 15 days to request a formal review hearing to protect your driving privileges from the automatic suspension that will occur if your attorney does not demand a hearing to contest the suspension. This hearing starts at $200.
- License reinstatement fee ($125). It will cost you $125 to get your license reinstated by DPS.
- Pre-trial supervision ($60+/month). If you have a clean record, you may qualify for what is called a personal recognizance (PR) bond. This bond allows you to leave without paying any bail. However, this “get-out-of-jail-free” card is not without fees ($60/month until trial) and other conditions/costs since by accepting it, you basically put yourself on probation. Some of these costs include:
- Drug tests ($50/each). Weekly random drug tests are both costly ($50) and inconvenient, and that’s if you pass them all. They get much worse if you don’t.
- Interlock ignition ($150 installation, $100/month). This is a breathalyzer to be able to start and drive your car. It’s costly, nearly impossible to not fail since things like spicy food, mouthwash or even a keto diet can cause a false positive, and ruins your car battery.
- SCRAM device ($550/month). Interlock on steroids, this is an ankle monitor that provides real-time updates on your BAC to authorities. While generally reserved for the worst violators, it’s up to the discretion of the judge and has been applied for even first-time offenders.
- DWI education programs ($230+). Even a first-time offender will be required to take part in at least two education programs — a 12-hour alcohol education course ($70) and a 32-hour DWI intervention program ($160+).
Other costs of a DWI in Texas
- SR-22 ($25 + $1,000). All drivers convicted of DWI, including driving under the influence of drugs or prescription medication, must show an SR-22 for a minimum of two years to maintain their driver’s license. The filing fee for the SR-22 is $25. However, the need for an SR-22 form flags a driver as high-risk to insurance companies. This can result in car insurance premiums increasing by almost 87 percent following a DWI conviction — equivalent to about $1,000 per year.
- Car insurance liability increase ($2,000+). You will need to buy additional insurance to meet minimum liability coverage. These requirements include $30,000 for injury or death of a single person in a car accident, $60,000 for injury or death of more than one person in a car accident and $25,000 for property damage in a car accident. This can add up to $2,000/year to your insurance cost.
- Court appearances ($200+). You pay a fee every time you appear before a judge. There’s a very good chance you’ll appear more than once for the same charge as well. Court appearance costs range from $200 to $1,500.
- Probation ($60+/month). All DWI offenders receive mandatory probation for a minimum of six months. The probation fee for anyone convicted of DWI is between $60-$140 each month during the probation term. As with pre-trial supervision, conditions (drug tests, interlock, etc.) will apply as well as their associated fees.
There are a number of other costs that can’t be quantified as easily as what has been discussed so far. However, they may be more costly than even the maximum $20,000 fine. These include:
- Job loss/court-martial/dishonorable discharge
- Losing custodial rights
- Divorce • Inability to get housing or a loan
- Loss of professional license or security clearance
- Losing your right to own a gun or vote
- Travel restrictions
Another overlooked cost of a DWI is time. It takes time to go to court; time to go to drug tests; time to get your interlock calibrated monthly; and time to meet with your probation officer. All this time adds up and adds to stress levels for you and those in your life. This is time away from your job, family events or even to just relax.
More than these, what’s the cost of having to explain to your 7-year-old son why you have an interlock on your car? What’s the cost of having to look a man in the eye after you injured or killed a member of his family? What’s the cost of having to tell your spouse that you can’t take that trip to Canada because your DWI makes that impossible. What’s the cost of not being able to take a leadership role on your daughter’s school board because your DWI will come out? In the final assessment, the ease of getting a DWI in Texas, combined with both the penalties and costs, should make anybody think twice about driving after drinking.
Author’s note: Data for this article was provided by Houston DWI Lawyer Clyde W. Burleson.
Editor’s note: The views presented are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or the Army. Any reference to a private organization or business does not constitute an endorsement by DoD or the Army.
Check out the following link to see how a DWI arrest changed a Soldier’s Army career: https://www.army.mil/article/165772/how_a_dui_forever_changed_a_local_soldiers_career