DWI vs. DUI in Texas

What is The Difference Between DWI and DUI in Texas?

While the majority of states do not distinguish between Driving under the Influence (DUI) and Driving while intoxicated (DWI), Texas does, following the lead of the federal government.

DWIs are classified as a more serious offense under the Texas Penal Code 49.04. Penalties can range from large fines to jail or prison time.   Under the Texas Traffic Code, minors are only charged with DUI. However, because a DUI is charged when any amount of alcohol is found in their system, being found guilty is much easier.  Although neither charge should be taken lightly, the consequences of a DWI are more severe than those of a DUI.

The next thing a person must understand after being arrested for DUI or DWI is that they are facing two separate cases. The first is a civil case for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), and the second is a criminal case for DUI or DWI. These separate cases are explained later.

Texas DWI offense

In Texas, when you operate a vehicle, of any type, in a public place (i.e. a highway) and are found to be intoxicated under Texas’ DWI law, you have committed a Class B misdemeanor.

  • A person arrested for a Texas DWI offense can be found to have alcohol and/or drugs in their system. You will be considered intoxicated if your blood or urine alcohol level is at or greater than .08 percent.
  • Another way for a person to be DWI is if they have lost the normal use of their mental or physical faculties. This definition of intoxication basically means that they can no longer operate a motor vehicle in a safe way.

When convicted of a DWI, you may receive jail time, lose your driver’s license for a minimum of 90 days, and be required to attend a study program. Be aware that if an open container of alcohol was present at the time of arrest, the minimum jail time under state law is six days.

A driver will lose his/her license for additional time should they be convicted of a subsequent DWI. If a person has a prior DWI conviction within five years of a current conviction, their driver’s license will be suspended for two (2) years with one (1) year hard. This means that they will not be eligible for a restricted driver’s license to get them to work and home for a minimum of one year

Texas DUI – Driving Under the Influence

A DUI is significantly different: a person under 21 years old may be arrested for a DUI if they have any detectable amount of alcohol in their system. Most police officers use the DUI distinction when stopping minors (those under the drinking age of 21) for suspicion of drinking and driving.

Once arrested you may face conviction for a Class C misdemeanor under state law. When convicted of a first offense misdemeanor, an individual does not face any prison sentence.

Further, the highest fine under Class C is in the amount of $500. It is also important to be aware that the court may order probation, which can take the form of a study program or community service. A minor will also face the issue of a driver’s license suspension, both administratively and through the court.

Texas DUI – Civil Case

Texas has long been known as a “zero tolerance” state, meaning that minors (anyone under 21 years of age) are not permitted to consume any alcohol and drive a vehicle.

This public policy is followed by the Department of Public Safety. Any minor found driving a vehicle after consuming alcohol will have their license suspended. In other words, if an officer testifies that he detected an odor of alcohol on a minor’s breath, the Department of Public Safety can automatically suspend the license for 60 to 120 days. In general, if an officer believes that a minor has only consumed a small amount of alcohol, he will issue a citation and release the minor to an adult. However, if the officer suspects that the minor is intoxicated, the minor can be arrested for DWI.

Intoxication is not an element of Driving Under the Influence. If an ALR hearing is requested, the Department of Public Safety is only required to prove that the officer had:

  1. a reason to stop the car and
  2. a reason to believe that the minor had consumed alcohol.

Texas DUI – Criminal Case

Driving Under the Influence is a Class “C” misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $500.00, but no time in jail for a first-time offender. Repeat offenders would be subject to higher penalties and jail time.

Most prosecutors also require probation, alcohol assessments, classes, and community service.

Texas DWI – Driving While Intoxicated

Driving While Intoxicated is a common criminal offense that affects everyone. The severity of the offense and an individual’s history determine the DWI penalties. DWI convictions are enhanceable offenses, which means that a previous conviction will be considered in the punishment for a subsequent conviction. The same holds true for any license suspension that may result from an arrest.

In Texas, intoxication can occur in one of two ways. If a person provides a specimen of blood, breath, or urine with a BAC of.08 or higher at the time of driving, they are legally intoxicated. Similarly, a person may become intoxicated as a result of a loss of normal mental or physical faculties caused by the introduction of alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or a combination of these.

DWI applies to a wide range of vehicles, including automobiles, boats, planes, amusement park equipment, and other watercraft. If anyone is caught operating any of these while intoxicated, they face serious consequences. Minors can be arrested for DWI as well.

If a person is under the age of 21 and operating a motor vehicle, they will face the same penalties as an adult in both criminal and civil cases, with one exception: the license suspension for a minor who provides a specimen with a BAC greater than 0.08 will be for 60 days rather than 90 days.

Texas DWI – Civil Case

A Texas DWI arrest can result in major automatic license suspensions. If a person who submits to a breath or blood test has a BAC of 0.08 or higher, DPS will attempt to suspend the person’s driver’s license for a minimum of ninety days and a maximum of one year.

If a person has a previous alcohol-related contact, like a DWI, within ten years and they provide a specimen, DPS will attempt to suspend the person’s license for a term of not less than one (1) year.

If a person refuses to submit a specimen of breath or blood, DPS will attempt to suspend the person’s driver’s license for at least 180 days and up to two years. In the event of a refusal, actions and words may be interpreted as a refusal to provide a specimen. To make that determination, the officer is not required to obtain a “no” or “I refuse” response.

Requesting an attorney or failing to respond at all is also considered a refusal. These license suspensions are unrelated to the criminal case. The burden on the Department is extremely light, and most people arrested for DWI face some form of license suspension.

If a person has a prior alcohol-related contact, such as a DWI, within the previous ten years and refuses to provide a specimen, their license will be suspended for no more than two (2) years.

Texas DWI – Criminal Case

If this is your first DWI arrest, you will be charged with a Class “B” misdemeanor. A Class “B” DWI carries a maximum sentence of three (3) days in jail and a fine of two thousand dollars ($2000). When facing a DWI conviction, alcohol education classes, community service, probation, and court costs are all options.

A DWI conviction may result in an additional license suspension, independent of the civil case. Because this is an aggravating offense, subsequent DWIs will result in significant jail time, fines, and community service hours.

In addition, the Texas Legislature in 2003 passed legislation (PDF) requiring the Department of Public Safety to collect a surcharge from anyone convicted of DWI. This surcharge is paid in addition to your criminal or civil case. If a person refuses to provide a specimen or provides one that is less than 0.15, they must pay a $1,000 surcharge per year for three (3) years after being convicted of DWI. If a person provided a 0.16 or higher specimen, the surcharge is $2,000 per year for three (3) years. If the surcharge is not paid, it may result in additional license suspensions or the cancellation of a person’s driver’s license entirely.

Hire an Experienced DWI Attorney

In either a Texas DUI or DWI situation, it is important to recognize the potentially serious implications of such an arrest. In order to protect your rights you are entitled to hire an experienced DUI/DWI attorney and should do so immediately.

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