Some states draw a clear distinction between a DUI and a DWI (driving under the influence/driving while intoxicated). In such instances, a DWI refers to driving under the influence of alcohol alone, whereas with a DUI, a driver could be under the influence of alcohol, prescription drugs, recreational drugs, or a combination of those.
The Lone Star State does things slightly differently, however. In Texas, a DWI charge is leveled for anyone who drives under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, including drivers under the age of 21. However, for minors, there’s an additional potential charge of a DUIA (driving under the influence of alcohol). To confuse matters further, many people use the term DUI to refer to a DUIA … or even a DWI!
We’ve written this clear and concise guide to DWIs and DUIs in Texas to end the confusion. We’ll explain the differences between the two, outline the penalties, examine the additional rules for minors, and compare the approach in Texas to other states. In short, we’ll help you to make sense of a complicated area in Texas law.
The drunk driving charge you face in Texas depends on your blood alcohol content (BAC) level. Drivers with a BAC of over 0.08% will be charged with a DWI. If you’re found guilty, potential penalties and punishments include a fine of up to $2,000, between three and 180 days in jail, and a suspended license for between 90 and 365 days. In cases where your BAC is over 0.15%, or you had an open container, or where driving with a minor in the car, you could find yourself facing an aggravated DWI charge, with even greater sanctions.
A DUI (or DUIA) charge in Texas applies to minors who have any trace of alcohol or drugs in their system. A DUIA for a minor under 17 is subject to a fine of up to $500, a license suspension of at least 60 days, between 20 and 40 hours of community service, plus attendance on an alcohol awareness course. A DUIA by minors aged 17 to 20 years carries broadly similar penalties to a standard DWI offense.
Most DUI cases are tried under state law, but your case could come under the jurisdiction of a federal court. A DUI becomes a federal crime when the offense takes place on federal lands. Examples include a drunk vacationer driving through a national park or an intoxicated soldier driving on a military base. Note that the federal system tends to have harsher penalties and that serving personnel may face additional military sanctions.
All 50 states conform with federal legislation stating that anyone with a BAC of over 0.08% will be charged with drunk driving (this charge is also known as a Per Se DWI). Where states differ centers on the exact penalties and punishments: some will automatically send you to jail if you’re found guilty, whereas others will only hit you with a civil infringement, for example.
In most states, there’s also a charge of aggravated DWI for drivers with a BAC above 0.15%, although that figure is set a little higher in some jurisdictions.
Let’s get one thing straight - any DUI or DWI conviction isn’t something you want to have on your record. It has massive consequences in all sorts of areas - not just in the legal sanctions but also in insurance premiums, the inconvenience of not driving anywhere, complications with employment, and even restrictions on international travel.
That said, the penalties and punishments for a DWI are much tougher than a DUI.
A conviction for a DWI remains on your record for life. What’s more, because a court conviction is a matter of public record, it can be accessed by anyone in Texas, including a prospective employer.
In a very limited set of circumstances, it may be possible to have your conviction expunged, meaning that private employers wouldn’t be able to see it. However, from a government perspective, your conviction is on record for life and remains relevant if you apply for a federal job or are charged with a subsequent DWI offense.
It’s illegal for anyone aged under 21 to drink alcohol in Texas, and the state takes a zero-tolerance approach with any minor caught drunk driving. Even minors who have the tiniest trace of alcohol in their system can still be charged with a DUIA. What’s more, if your BAC is above 0.08%, you could face simultaneous DUIA and DWI charges.
Reflecting public sentiment, courts, legislators, and judges all come down hard on DWI offenses. That means it’s doubly important for you to work with a DUI lawyer with specific knowledge and experience in the area. The severe consequences mean that it’s worth exploring every single option open to you.
While you may worry about the DUI attorney cost, a better question might be this: when you factor in all the other potential costs, can you afford not to get a DUI defense lawyer?
If you’ve been charged with a drunk driving offense, you want the best DUI lawyer you can get, period. For expert advice and a free initial case assessment, call us for help with your DWI charge.