Is it Possible to be Arrested for Driving While Intoxicated in Texas Without Drinking Any Alcohol?

Operating a vehicle on a public roadway with other drivers is a significant responsibility. Safe driving requires attentiveness, quick reflexes, and clear thinking. If any of a driver’s senses are impaired, they could become a hazard to those around them. Texas’ laws against driving while intoxicated are meant to protect the public from the dangers posed by individuals who are no longer capable of operating a vehicle responsibly.

Most people are aware that alcohol can impair driving skills, and it is common to associate a DWI charge with operating a motor vehicle after having a few alcoholic drinks. However, Texas’ DWI laws are not limited to the consumption of alcohol but include all ingestible substances that can alter an individual’s thought processes and physical capabilities. Law enforcement officers have the authority to arrest anyone they believe lacks the capacity to safely operate a vehicle, regardless of whether they’ve consumed alcohol or another intoxicating substance.

The charges and consequences for a DWI are the same for alcohol, controlled substances, drugs, or a combination of any of these. If convicted, you could lose your driver’s license, face jail time and fines, and risk losing your professional certifications. If you’ve been arrested for a DWI, it is essential to seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense lawyer who will uphold your rights.

How Do Texas Statutes Define Intoxication?

Texas Penal Code § 49.01 contains a two-part definition of intoxication. A person can be considered legally intoxicated if one of the following statements is true:

  • They have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or above.
  • They no longer possess the “normal use” of their physical or mental faculties because of ingesting dangerous drugs, alcohol, controlled substances, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance that could alter their thinking or functional abilities, including prescription drugs.

This broad definition of intoxication gives significant leeway to law enforcement officials to arrest individuals suspected of impaired driving. However, to obtain a conviction, the prosecution must be able to prove to a judge or jury that the individual was, in fact, intoxicated. Evidence the prosecution may utilize can include videos of erratic driving, officer reports regarding speech patterns and appearance, blood tests for alcohol and drugs, statements from the defendant and witnesses, and more. A jury is not required to agree on the manner of intoxication to convict a driver of a DWI, only that the driver was intoxicated in some way.

Is a Texas DWI Offense Limited to Operating a Motor Vehicle?

One key point of a typical DWI charge is that the accused individual must be operating their motor vehicle on a public roadway while intoxicated. However, it’s important to note that cars, trucks, and motorcycles are not the only motorized vehicles covered by Texas’ DWI laws. While it is much less common to receive a DWI while operating another type of conveyance, it can happen. People should be aware of the legal consequences of drinking or taking other substances before controlling any potentially dangerous machinery or vehicles. According to the state’s penal code, performing these actions while intoxicated can also result in charges:

  • Operating a watercraft
  • Flying a plane
  • Assembling or operating an amusement ride

Is Having an Open Container in Your Vehicle Illegal Even if You Are Not Impaired?

Even if you have consumed zero alcohol or other altering substances, you could still face charges if you are pulled over and there is an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of your vehicle. An “open container” includes any receptacle for an alcohol-containing beverage with a broken seal or a portion of the contents missing. Legally transporting an open container is possible, but the container must be in the trunk, in a locked glove box, or behind the last row of seats if the vehicle has no trunk. While an open container charge is not as severe as a DWI charge, it is still a Class C misdemeanor, which could result in a fine of up to $500. You may also be charged with an open container violation in addition to a DWI, which can compound your legal troubles.

Can Enhanced DWI Penalties Apply if You Are Intoxicated by a Substance Other Than Alcohol?

Regardless of the source of your intoxication, the prosecution may seek enhanced penalties if certain circumstances apply to your case. A first-time DWI charge is typically a Class B misdemeanor, but the charges may be increased to a state jail felony or higher if you are accused of any of the following:

  • Transporting a child passenger: Whether you were driving a motor vehicle or a boat while intoxicated, you may be charged with a state jail felony if any of the passengers were under 15.
  • Having previous offenses: Each subsequent DWI offense substantially increases the mandatory minimum sentencing, fines, and driver’s license suspension you could face if convicted.
  • Causing the injury or death of a protected person: If you were driving while intoxicated and injured or killed a firefighter, emergency medical services personnel, judge, or peace officer while they were performing their duties, you could be charged with a first or second degree felony.
  • Causing severe bodily injury to a victim: It is a second degree felony if your intoxicated driving caused an accident that resulted in traumatic brain injuries that left someone in a permanently vegetative state.

How Can a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney Assist You?

Any Texas DWI charge is serious, and you should seek legal counsel as soon as possible to ensure your rights are protected. Whether you or a loved one have been charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, prescription drugs, controlled substances, or a combination of substances, a knowledgeable DWI defense attorney from The Greening Law Group can investigate your case and determine the best path forward. Contact our College Station law office today at 979-406-5756 or fill out an online form to schedule a free case evaluation.