How Can Your BAC Impact the Penalties for a Texas DWI Charge?
Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a serious criminal charge that can result in costly fines, jail time, license suspension, and other life-altering consequences. While most Texas residents know they can be charged with a DWI if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is at 0.08 or above, many may not realize that they could still face DWI charges for a BAC below that level. It also comes as a surprise to many people arrested for a DWI that they may be subject to enhanced penalties for a BAC at or above 0.15.
How is Intoxication Defined in Texas?
The technical definition of intoxication in Texas is twofold. Texas Penal Code § 49.01 describes intoxication as:
- Not possessing the normal use of mental or physical faculties due to the consumption of alcohol, a controlled substance, drugs, or other impairing substances.
- Having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or more.
These definitions mean a Texas driver could be charged with a DWI even if their BAC is less than 0.08, as long as the arresting officer believes the driver’s normal mental or physical abilities have been affected by consuming one of the substances listed above. Of course, the officer must be able to definitively prove this impairment for the case to stand up in court. More often, the second definition of intoxication is utilized by authorities. A blood test is typically performed after the arrest to confirm the driver’s BAC.
Is the Law Different for Individuals Under 21?
Texas imposes a no-tolerance policy for individuals under the age of 21 who drink and drive. If someone under the legal drinking age is pulled over and has any detectable amount of alcohol in their system up to 0.079 BAC, they can be charged with a DUI and face the following penalties:
- A maximum fine of $500
- Up to 40 hours of community service
- License suspension up to 60 days
- Required attendance at an alcohol awareness class.
If an individual between 17 and 21 is pulled over with a BAC of 0.08 or more, they may be subject to even more severe consequences, such as:
- A jail sentence of three to 180 days
- A one-year license suspension
- A fine of up to $2000
What Are the Penalties for a DWI Conviction?
If you are over 21 and are found guilty of operating a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated, the legal ramifications you face will be based on your prior history of DWI convictions (if any) and your BAC. The cut-off level for a “standard” DWI charge is a BAC below 0.15. A first-time DWI conviction for a BAC between 0.08 and 0.149 is typically a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by:
- Maximum of $2000 in fines
- A three to 180-day jail sentence
- Driver’s license suspension from 90 days to 1 year
A second-offense DWI is a Class A misdemeanor which carries more severe penalties, including:
- 30 days to a year in jail
- Up to $4,000 in fines
- Driver’s license suspension up to two years
Individuals with three or more DWI convictions are considered extreme offenders and will face third-degree felony charges with consequences such as:
- Two to 10 years in prison
- A maximum fine of $10,000
- Driver’s license suspension up to two years
In addition to these penalties, anyone convicted of a DWI may be subject to probation and drug testing, mandatory community service, DWI education programs, and other court fees and fines. Most of these measures will cost extra money for the offender above and beyond the punitive fees, making a DWI conviction a costly proposition.
What Penalties Can You Face for a DWI With an Elevated BAC?
If blood tests show you were at or above 0.15 BAC following your arrest, you will be subject to enhanced charges for your DWI. A high BAC increases the charges by one level, so a first-time DWI with a BAC at or over 0.15 would become a Class A misdemeanor, a second-offense DWI is increased to a third-degree felony, and so on. Individuals guilty of driving with a high BAC must also install an interlock ignition device on all their vehicles.
What Other Scenarios Can Lead to Enhanced Texas DWI Penalties?
Under Texas law, several circumstances can result in more severe penalties for a DWI, in addition to having a BAC over 0.15. In certain situations, even a first-time DWI can result in hefty fines and many years in jail or prison. If your charges involve any of the following aggravating circumstances, you should contact an experienced DWI defense lawyer immediately to protect your rights and ensure the proper handling of your case:
- DWI with a child passenger under 15.
- Intoxication manslaughter.
- Intoxication assault.
- Harming a member of a protected group (firefighters, first responders, police officers, judges) while driving intoxicated.
How Can Our Law Firm Help You?
The consequences of an enhanced DWI conviction can be life-changing. If you are being charged with an elevated BAC DWI, you should not try to fight the charges alone or agree to a guilty plea before consulting an attorney. Enlisting the services of a skilled defense lawyer can help you reach the best possible outcome in your case. A DWI defense lawyer understands the intricacies of the law and can counsel and guide you through the court process. They may even be able to cast doubt on the accuracy of your BAC test.
The Greening Law Group has extensive experience defending individuals charged with enhanced DWIs in Texas. Let us put our knowledge to work for you. Contact our law firm today at 979-406-5756 to schedule a no-obligation case evaluation.