If you’re here, that means you probably got a DWI in the great state of Texas. That probably also means that you’re feeling frustrated, confused, annoyed, and maybe even a little scared. And you probably have just about a billion questions…
What are the possible punishments?
How much is this going to cost?
Should I get a lawyer?
Just how bad is this going to get?
Well, you can relax just a little bit, because if you’re looking for answers to those questions, you’ve come to the right place. Yes, there’s a ton you need to know if you’re going to navigate this process wisely. And you’re probably going to have to deal with some repercussions. But plenty of people have gone through exactly what you’re going through right now, and lived to tell the tale. So buckle up and keep reading, ‘cuz there’s a lot of information that’s about to come your way…
Is this your 1st, 2nd, or 3rd or more DWI?
First, let’s cover the basics. Texas assigns DWI penalties based on whether this is your first, second, third (or more) offense.
If this is your first offense, you’re going to get your license suspended for a minimum of 90 days (with a maximum of 180 days). You are not required to attend alcohol training under a first offense. You are also not required to get an ignition interlock device (so you won’t have to blow into anything to start your car). The courts can still order that these measures be taken, but they’re not automatic, and that’s good.
As far as criminal penalties go, the first time you’re convicted of a DWI in Texas, you will spend a minimum of 3 nights in jail (maximum of 180). You will also have to pay up to (but possibly less than) $2,000 in fines. Finally, you will be required to pay $1,000 a year in a DWI surcharge for the next three years (if you want to keep your license). Each one of these penalties is significantly more severe if you have a minor in the car, and the $1,000 per year is doubled if your BAC is .16 or higher. The circumstances of your situation could also increase the severity of your punishments. If there are injuries associated with your arrest, for instance, you will likely face harsher penalties than if your arrest was a simple DWI.
If this is your second DWI charge, your penalties are definitely going to be worse. First, your arrest could result in fines up to $4,000, and you could face up to one year in jail. Plus, your license could be suspended for two full years, and your annual surcharge rises to $2,000. It also becomes much more likely that the courts will order you to install an interlock device on your car and attend a DWI program.
If this is your third DWI charge, you might have to face some serious repercussions. The initial fine can reach $10,000. Jail time ranges from 2-10 years in a state facility. Your license may be suspended for up to 2 years. You will have to pay $2,000 for three years in a DWI surcharge, Lastly, it is highly likely that you will have an interlock device on your car and that you will have to attend a court ordered education program.
So there are obviously quite a few punishments. Texas takes DWIs very seriously. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have any options. Sentences are often reduced and minimized, and there are plenty of techniques you can use if you know how the system works. That’s why it’s good that you’re here, doing your research. The more information you have, and the better prepared you are, the better your chances.
Don't automatically plead guilty
One of the biggest mistakes that people make is that they automatically plead guilty just because their breath test was over the legal limit. This can be an enormous mistake, because if the breath test wasn’t administered correctly, or if the machines weren’t well maintained, you might be able to fight and beat your Texas DWI.
It may sound far fetched, but people routinely get out of their DWIs because of faulty breath tests, or because officers didn’t follow arrest protocol, or other similar reasons. That’s why you need to know your facts before you make any irreversible decisions (like pleading guilty too soon).
That’s also why you should consider hiring an attorney to help you get through this process. A good attorney is someone who has handled dozens or hundreds of similar cases in the past. They know the court. They know the judges, and they know the ins and outs of the law. Although they cost money, they can save you money over time. More importantly, if they can successfully get the charges dropped, a good attorney can keep the DWI from showing up on your record. This is invaluable. No one wants to click the “I have a record” box on a job application, and a great attorney can help you avoid that reality.
Penalty reductions are possible
Even if your BAC results stand in court, it’s possible that your attorney could help get the other penalties reduced. Although it’s impossible to get a Texas DWI charge reduced to a lesser sentence, there is plenty of flexibility in the punishments, and if your case is managed well, you might be able to escape with the minimum fines and jail time.
Look, no one is happy when they get a DWI. And a lot of the information above probably seems pretty intimidating when you take it at face value. But the fact of the matter is that judges often make compromises. That’s especially true if you’re a first time offender, if you have good standing in the community, or if your BAC was on the low side of illegal. Good attorneys can even bring in character witnesses from the night of your arrest — bartenders or friends who were with you that night — to vouch for your sobriety at the time you got behind the wheel. There are plenty of ways this could turn out OK (or at least not horrible). So stay diligent. Do your homework, and be more careful next time. It’s a complicated system, but you can get through it if you work hard, get good help, and stay focused on the details.
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