Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is one of the leading causes of fatal car accidents in the US. In fact, drinking and driving kills 28 people in the US each day. Over 10,000 lives are lost to drunk driving each year as a result.

Is a DWI a criminal offense in Texas, though? What happens if you’re on your first, second, or third DWI? Keep reading to find out.

After reading this guide, you’ll have a better understanding of the potential legal percussions. You can determine when it’s time to call a DWI lawyer, too.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about getting a DWI in Texas today.

Is DWI a Criminal Offense in Texas?

First, let’s answer the question that brought you here. Is a DWI considered a criminal offense in Texas?

Under Texas Penal Code Section 49.04, a DWI is illegal. It’s illegal for someone who is intoxicated to drive in a public place.

The circumstances of the arrest will determine if it’s a misdemeanor or felony, though.

The penal code defines intoxication as having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more. It also indicates you lack normal use of physical or mental facilities due to alcohol or a controlled substance. 

Prosecutors can use these avenues to prove you were intoxicated while driving. They’ll have to prove you lacked normal use of your mental or physical faculties. For example, they might use an officer’s testimony that you had an open container or smelled like alcohol.

The arresting officer will administer field sobriety tests to indicate you’re intoxicated. They might record eye nystagmus or your reaction time. These tests are usually speculative or inaccurate, though.

Your DWI lawyer could get this evidence thrown out if the test wasn’t administered properly. They might argue the officer violated your constitutional rights, too.

The prosecutor will also need to prove you had an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more. They could provide evidence using a blood test or breathalyzer test. However, these tests are sometimes unreliable.

The test could produce inaccurate blood or breath readings.

Don’t try to handle a DWI criminal offense alone. Make sure you have a DWI lawyer at your side. They can challenge this evidence to get your case thrown out. 

First Offenses

Remember, the circumstances of your case will determine if your DWI is a criminal offense or not.

If this is your first time facing a DWI arrest in Texas, you’ll likely get charged with a Class B misdemeanor. The charge can include a minimum term of confinement of 72 hours. In some cases, you might meet criteria that will upgrade the charge to a felony.

If you’re found with an open container of alcohol at the time of the arrest, the term of confinement will increase to six days. 

If you have a higher BAC reading, the charges could increase as well.

For example, you could get charged with a Class A misdemeanor if you have a BAC of 0.15 or higher during a first offense.

If you have a high BAC reading and a prior, alcohol-related conviction, the penalties might increase.

Usually, a first-time DWI isn’t viewed as a felony. However, there are three circumstances that could lead to felony charges.

For example, perhaps you were driving under the influence and caused someone to sustain a non-fatal injury. If the driver was seriously injured, you could get charged with intoxication assault.

Intoxication assault is a third-degree felony under Texas law.

If you kill someone while driving, it’s intoxication manslaughter. You could get charged with a second-degree felony.

If you drive drunk with a child passenger, you could get charged with a state jail felony.

Second Offenses

Usually, a second DWI offense isn’t charged as a felony, either. Instead, it’s charged as a Class A misdemeanor under the Texas Penal Code.

This misdemeanor includes a minimum jail term of 30 days. The maximum term could extend to a year.

It also carries a maximum fine of $4,000. 

However, your arrest could lead to felony charges if you injure or kill someone after driving drunk. You could get your driving privileges suspended for up to two years as well. 

Third Offenses

Is a third DWI A felony in Texas? Yes. You could face a criminal offense if you’re arrested a third time.

If you’re convicted, you’ll face a state prison sentence for two to 10 years. You’ll also receive a fine of up to $10,000. 

Depending on the judge for your case, you might have to complete 700 hours of community service. You might receive an ignition interlock device. Your driver’s license might get revoked as well.

You might also have to attend a DWI Impact Panel or substance abuse treatment. 

A DWI Impact Panel is a forum. Victims of drunk driving will tell you who they lost as a result of someone else’s negligence. 

Unfortunately, a criminal offense can lead to other consequences down the road. Most employers run background checks before hiring new employees. Your third DWI could cost you a potential job.

Landlords complete background checks, too. You might find it difficult to explore housing options.

You might lose the right to vote or own firearms as well. 

Meanwhile, the stigma of having a felony conviction could impact your reputation. The consequences could haunt you for the rest of your life. 

Hire a Lawyer

If you’re charged with a DWI in Texas, don’t try to handle the situation alone. There are over 804,200 lawyers across the US, though. Find someone who specializes in DWI cases.

They’ll have more intimate knowledge of the laws and procedures involved with your case. They might have an easier time helping you avoid a felony conviction. 

Avoid a Criminal Offense Charge: Know When to Call a DWI Lawyer ASAP

To recap, is DWI a criminal offense in Texas? It depends on the circumstances surrounding your case. Whether it’s your first or third DWI, make sure to contact a DWI lawyer.

They can help minimize the charges to help you avoid a prison sentence. 

Need to talk to an experienced DWI lawyer right away? We’re here for you.

Contact our DWI lawyer in Austin, TX to discuss your case.

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