Austin Drunk Driving Charges Can Have Serious Consequences
If you’ve been charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Austin, you can’t afford to take a “wait and see” approach. If you appear in court without an attorney, the prosecution may offer you a plea deal–an agreement under which you plead guilty and accept specific penalties. While you may be inclined to believe this is the best you can do and move forward to get it over with, you may be missing important information that would affect your decision.
First, you may be unaware of the full consequences of a drunk driving conviction. Some of the direct consequences, which may be a part of the plea agreement offered, include:
- Jail time
- Fines and court costs
- Driver’s license suspension
- Ignition interlock device requirement
- Mandatory substance abuse counseling or other treatment
- Vehicle forfeiture in felony cases
But, those are just the consequences directly imposed by the court or the state of Texas. Indirect consequences of a DUI conviction may include loss of job opportunities, higher car insurance rates, fees and costs associated with ignition interlock devices and other monitoring, and even travel restrictions. Too often, people who are not represented in DUI cases are surprised by these consequences after accepting a plea agreement.
You may also have defenses you aren’t aware of—opportunities to challenge the evidence and have the charge dismissed or reduced—that will be lost if you enter into an agreement. That’s why it is in your best interest to speak with an experienced DUI defense attorney.
What Constitutes Driving While Intoxicated in Texas?
The crime legally described as “driving while intoxicated” or “DWI” in Texas is also commonly known as “DUI,” “driving under the influence,” “operating while intoxicated,” or “OWI.” In DWI, a person may be convicted of driving while intoxicated based on any one of five situations:
- The person is operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or greater;
- The person is operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol;
- The person is operating a motor vehicle under the influence of any self-administered intoxicant or drug (or combination thereof) that impairs his ability to operate the vehicle safely;
- The person is operating a motor vehicle under the influence of a combination of alcohol and drugs such that his ability to operate safely is impaired; or
- The person is operating a motor vehicle with a specific concentration of one of several listed drugs
Note that any one of these is enough to sustain a conviction. So, for instance, a person whose BAC was greater than .08 may be convicted although he or she showed no signs of impairment. Similarly, a person who is proven to have been impaired by drugs or alcohol may be convicted even if there is no chemical test evidence available or the chemical test result is below the legal limit.
Potential Defenses to Texas DWI Charges
It’s easy to assume that if you’ve been charged with DWI, it’s impossible to avoid a conviction. In fact, though, there are a number of possible defenses to be explored in a driving while intoxicated case. Some of the most common questions an experienced criminal defense attorney will seek to answer are:
- Did the officer have sufficient cause to stop your vehicle?
- Are there other possible explanations for evidence that is being interpreted as signs of intoxication or impairment?
- Was the chemical test properly administered?
- Was the officer testifying as to signs of impairment properly trained to observe and assess those signals?
If probable cause was lacking, or there are flaws in the evidence, an experienced criminal defense lawyer may pursue dismissal of the charges, negotiate for a reduction in the charges, or fight the accusations at trial. With more than 25 years of criminal defense experience and nearly 100 Texas jury trials, attorneys know how to use any weaknesses identified to negotiate on your behalf or prepare the strongest possible case for trial.
Penalties for Driving While Intoxicated in Texas
A first-offense DWI conviction not involving any special circumstances is a Class 1 misdemeanor with a potential penalty of up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. There is a mandatory minimum fine of $250. Higher BAC results trigger harsher mandatory minimum penalties as follows:
- BAC of 0.15 to 0.20: mandatory minimum of 5 days in jail
- BAC greater than 0.20: mandatory minimum of 10 days in jail
Second and subsequent DWI convictions also carry more serious penalties, including longer mandatory minimum jail sentences and higher fines. A third offense within 10 years is charged as a felony, and requires a minimum 90-day jail sentence (6 months if all three offenses occurred within a 5-year period). And, conviction of a fourth or subsequent offense within a 10 year period means a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in jail.
- Incarceration: Typically, a person arrested for DWI will be able to pay bond and get out of jail. However, if they cannot afford their bond or if someone else cannot post the bond for them, they can remain in jail for a minimum of 72 hours up to a maximum of 180 days.
- License suspension: If the individual submits to a breath or blood test to determine the concentration of alcohol in their body, their license will typically be suspended for 90 days. If they refuse to submit to the test, their license can be automatically revoked for six months.
- Community supervision or probation: For most first-time DWI offenders, a jail sentence will be suspended, and the individual will be placed on probation. During this probation, the convicted individual will have to make monthly reports to a probation officer and pay monthly fees. The judge may choose to impose additional probation conditions, such as mandatory drug and alcohol classes or community service. If the person violates a condition of probation, he or she may have to serve time in jail.
- Fines: The standard fine of $2,000 for a first-time DWI offender may not sound like a great deal of money to be paid out over the course of a probation period. However, this fee does not include court costs, lawyer costs or the cost of DWI education classes.
An Experienced Texas DWI Attorney Can Help
DWI Attorneys have devoted decades to defending people who have been charged with crimes. They understand what is at stake for you and your family, and has a thorough knowledge of both the substantive legal issues and the procedural requirements in the Austin-area criminal courts.
There are a few ways to defend against a DWI charge. An experienced DWI attorney will first try to make the prosecution prove that there was probable cause to make the traffic stop. Next, the DWI attorney may try to show that the arresting officer did not follow proper procedure. For example, if the attorney can prove that a breathalyzer test was administered incorrectly, the resulting blood alcohol concentration (BAC) report can be deemed inadmissible.
Call right now to learn more about how an attorney can help. The initial consultation is free, and the knowledge you gain may be invaluable.
Texas DWI FAQs
A charge of driving while intoxicated can drastically alter a person’s life. This crime is deemed to be especially serious by law enforcement agencies and the justice system. As the rate of DWI incidents has increased, the penalties for this crime have become steadily more strict and severe. These penalties are quickly amplified if any other people were injured in the incident or if the alleged guilty person has a previous DWI charge. Defending against a DWI charge in Texas can prove to be very difficult.
What do I do if I am stopped by a police officer and have been drinking?
First, do not panic. Always be polite and respectful. Depending on your driving and the time of night the officer may began to question you about how much and what you were drinking. Under the United States and Texas Constitution you have a right against self incrimination. Do not admit to drinking, but be polite. If you feel pressured inform the police officer that you will be willing to answer all of his questions after you speak with an attorney.
What if the police officer asks me to perform field sobriety tests?
Respectfully decline all field sobriety tests. The police officer is attempting to collect evidence to use against you and to arrest you. Do not give the state evidence to help prove that you are guilty. You will be nervous and have never performed these tests and it is likely that you will not do your best under the pressure of arrest.
Should I take the breath test?
No. The machine is prone to errors and is not accurate enough to trust. It is possible to submit an erroneously high result. Juries understand that machines can be faulty and understand why a person would refuse to blow.
Can I be forced to submit to a blood test?
If the police officer has a search warrant you can be forced to submit to a blood test. Further, under Texas law, blood draws are mandatory if you are charged with a Felony DWI, Intoxication Manslaughter, Intoxication Assault or DWI with Child Passenger.
The police officer did not read me my rights. Can I get my case thrown out?
During the stop and investigation of the DWI, the questions asked of you are not considered “custodial interrogation.” If you are in custody and being interrogated the police are required to inform you of your rights by reading you your Miranda Rights. Therefore it is common that the Miranda Rights are not read because you are not considered in custody at this point. The short answer is your case will not be dismissed for this reason. If later in your arrest, custodial interrogation occurs and you are not Mirandized, it is possible to have the judge order these statements suppressed.
Is my license automatically suspended if I am arrested for a DWI in Texas?
Your license will not be automatically suspended if you are arrested for DWI. However, you must request an Administrative License Revocation Hearing (ALR) within 15 days of your arrest to fight the suspension. If a hearing is not requested within the proscribed time period your license will be automatically be suspended on the 41st day after your arrest.
Can I drive to work if my license is suspended for DWI?
You can petition the court for an Occupational Drivers License to drive to and from work and to perform essential household duties. Depending on your driving record, most judges will issue an Occupational Drivers License.