Let’s face it, getting pulled over on a suspicion of driving while intoxicated in Texas is a very stressful experience. The most important thing to do in this situation is not to panic. Anything you say or do in the traffic stop may be used against you.
DWI stands for “driving while intoxicated,” and in Texas a person is considered legally intoxicated and may be arrested and charged when they are caught driving over the legal limit of alcohol in their blood (.08 BAC — breath alcohol concentration).
However, a person is also considered intoxicated if they are impaired due to alcohol or other drugs, regardless of their BAC level. Whether you are a passenger or driver, you can still be fined up to $500 in Texas for having an open alcohol container in a vehicle.
It is important to note that impairment begins with your first drink, and the best way to avoid or get out of a DWI is to not drink and drive in the first place. That being said, how do you know when you have had too much?
As you may know, your gender, body weight, the number of drinks you’ve consumed and the amount of food you’ve eaten all affect your body’s alcohol tolerance. Two to three drinks in the time span of one hour is usually enough to make most people legally intoxicated; however, women and smaller people generally become impaired with less alcohol.
Below are a few steps that you may take to prevent yourself from doing something that will potentially hurt your case.
When Stopped for a DWI: Be Cooperative, But not Overly Cooperative with the Officers
It is important to be as cooperative, polite, and helpful with the police officer as possible. However, you should not be over cooperative and divulge any information that will incriminate yourself.
Although you are legally required to provide your driver's license and proof of insurance, Texas law does not require that you tell the officer that you have been drinking with friends for the past few hours or how many drinks you have had.
Further, Texas law does not require that you submit to a blood or breath test. Texas law does not require that you take the police field sobriety tests, especially because these tests are designed for you to fail and demonstrate that you are impaired on film.
Texas law does not require that you to answer the officers’ probing questions. Thus, when you are pulled over, you should politely tell the officer that you will not answer any questions or submit to any tests, until you have had the opportunity to consult with an attorney.
If you are arrested, you should demand to speak to an attorney before submitting to any chemical testing. An experienced criminal attorney can advise you what type of chemical test you need to take (breath, blood, or urine).
Texas law allows you the opportunity to have a private chemical test done within two hours of your arrest, which an attorney may help arrange. In sum, you should be a good citizen and nice person, but not to the extent that you are self-incriminating.
Finally, if you have submitted to any of the above tests, you should not automatically plead guilty simply because you were over the legal limit. This is a common mistake, because people often get out of DWI charges for numerous reasons including: faulty breath, blood, or urine tests, officers not following arrest protocol, or other various reasons.
Once again, an experienced criminal attorney can assist you through this process as they know the system, judges, and the ins and outs of the law.
Texas Law Assigns DWI Penalties Base on the Number of Offenses
The severity of the penalty that you may face for a DWI charge in Texas is determined based on whether this is your first, second, or third (or more) offense.
Penalties for First DWI Offense
As you are sitting on the side of the road, you may be asking yourself questions like “Am I going to prison” or “What is the maximum penalty that I can face for a first offense DWI in Texas?” A first offense for DWI will likely result in your license being suspended for a minimum of 90 days, with a possibility for a maximum of 180 days.
Further, if you are convicted of a DWI, you will spend a minimum three nights in jail (maximum of 180) and have to pay up to $2,000 in fines. Finally, you will be required to pay a DWI surcharge of $1,000 a year for the next three years, if you want to keep your license.
These penalties and fines may increase if you had a minor in the car, your BAC was .16 or higher, or based on the other circumstances of your case. For example, if your DWI resulted in an injury to another person, you will face greater penalties than if your arrest was a simple DWI.
Penalties for Second DWI Offense
Penalties for a second DWI charge are much greater than penalties for your first. For instance, your fines may double to up to $4,000 and you could face up to a year in jail. Further, your license can be suspended for two years, instead of a maximum 180 days, and your annual DWI surcharge fees rise to $2,000. Further, after your second DWI, the courts will likely order an interlock device be installed on your vehicle and that you attend a DWI education program.
Penalties for Third or More DWI Offenses
Penalties for a third DWI charge are severe, and you may be facing serious penalties. First, the initial fine may be up to $10,000. Jail time ranges from two to ten years, your license may be suspended for two years, and you will have to pay a $2,000 DWI surcharge annually to keep your license. Finally, you will likely have an interlock device installed in your vehicle and you will have to attend a court ordered DWI education program.
Do I Need an Attorney If I am Facing a DWI Charge in Texas?
As can be seen, Texas takes DWIs very seriously. Further, all of the above penalties may be reduced or minimized with the help of a knowledgeable criminal law attorney. If you have been charged with or are currently facing a DWI charge, it may be in your best interest to contact a licensed and experienced Texas criminal defense attorney immediately.
A lawyer will be able to advise you so that you do not incriminate yourself or even speak on your behalf so that you do not say anything wrong. Remember, anything said to an officer can and will be used against you in a court of law.