Depending on what the circumstances of your case are, the penalties for a DWI conviction can vary. It generally takes a while for your case to get through the justice system. After your arrest and bond out of jail, it can take a while for the case to get filed. If there is a blood test, this will delay the filing. Most of the time, the district attorney will not file the case until the results of the blood or breath test come back. This can vary. The consequences can linger for months or years afterward, especially if there is a situation in which your case ends in probation. Probation will last for months, so it can take a lot of time to get this behind you. The actual penalties that happen in your case will depend on the unique and specific circumstances in your case and what your attorney can negotiate. This underscores the importance of hiring the right attorney at the outset to obtain the best possible outcome.
The Penalties Depend on How Your Case Ends
There are three ways for a DWI case to end. The first is a jury trial. A jury trial ends with a verdict of not guilty or guilty, although it can also end with a mistrial. The second way for your DWI case to end is by plea bargain. This is the way that most DWI cases end. Although lots of cases do go to trial, the majority of cases end in plea bargain. If your case ends in plea bargain, your attorney has tried to work out a favorable deal in exchange for a guilty plea. Sometimes this is for a reduced charge, and sometimes it is for a reduced penalty on a DWI. It depends on what happened in your case. The third way for a DWI case to end is when it gets dismissed. Because of the political pressure on law enforcement and prosecutors to obtain convictions for DWI charges, this is rare. For a DWI case to get dismissed, there has to be a negative blood test or an illegal stop. There must be some glaring reason for a prosecutor to dismiss it. Even if the blood alcohol concentration is under .08 grams per deciliter, which is the legal limit, they probably will not dismiss it. Regardless, the DWI penalties you will face depends on two things: the circumstances and severity of your charge and the skill and negotiating prowess of your attorney. There are factors to consider. For instance, here are a few early questions to be answered. What happened in your case? Was somebody inured? How high is the State alleging your blood alcohol concentration was? Do you have any prior convictions for DWI? The potential penalties for DWI can range anywhere from a Class B misdemeanor all the way to a very serious felony if you are dealing with either felony repetition or intoxication assault or intoxication manslaughter. Regardless of what charge you are facing, it is important to get your defense going as soon as possible. Aside from the criminal penalties, there are other penalties having to do with your license suspension. The court can also require an interlock device installed in your car. This page is just a guide, but if you call my office, we can have a specific discussion about your case, and penalties you could be facing.
A First Time DWI Will Be Charged as a Misdemeanor
If you or a family member has been arrested for DWI in Fort Worth, Arlington, another city in Tarrant County, or anywhere in Texas, you may be wondering what you have gotten yourself into. Anywhere in Texas, all Counties in Texas, a DWI first can be either a Class ‘B’ misdemeanor or a Class 'A' misdemeanor. If there is not an accident involved, a DWI arrest for a person who has no prior convictions for DWI, the classification depends on the blood alcohol score. The severity of the charge will hinge on how elevated the blood alcohol test result is. As stated above, the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration in Texas and in most states across the nation is .08 grams per deciliter. However, the threshold number is .15 grams per deciliter. if your blood comes back .15 or higher, the charge will be a Class A misdemeanor. Otherwise, it will be a Class 'B' misdemeanor. Even if your blood test comes back positive for other drugs or substances, it will not be enhanced unless it is above.15. Here is the punishment range for Class B misdemeanors carry the following potential range of punishment:
- a maximum fine of $2,000
- possible jail time between three and one hundred and eighty days
- up to two years on probation
These are the possible range of punishment for a conviction. If there is a conviction, there will be other penalties such as probation, classes, community service, court costs, and surcharges. It is important to see if a conviction can be avoided. A conviction is what you are fighting right now by searching for relevant answers online. Once again, if you call me I can provide a more detailed road map of a DWI charge, how it develops, and how your case will work its way through the justice system. Often, for a first DWI, the time you do in jail after your arrest is the only jail time you’ll do. 180 days is the maximum range of punishment. A Class 'A' misdemeanor carries the following range of punishment:
- a maximum fine of $4,000
- maximum jail time of one year
- up to two years probation
License suspensions are part of a separate but related process. Driver's license suspensions are discussed in depth on other pages, but the length of your driver’s license suspension depends upon whether you voluntarily provided a breath or a blood specimen when asked by law enforcement. This is known as the Implied Consent law. If you consent to give a breath or blood test, you get three months. If you refuse to give a test when asked, you will get a six month suspension. All suspensions are subject to challenge and hearing by an attorney, and this is an important and early task in your DWI defense. You have slightly more than two weeks from arrest to request a hearing.
If a person pleads guilty on their first DWI in Tarrant County, many people are faced with the decision of DWI Probation or labor detail. Labor detail is a program that is available in Tarrant County, run by the Tarrant County Sheriff, in which a person works from 7am to 3pm doing tasks assigned by the Sheriff. These tasks are cleaning windows at County facilities, picking up trash, and similar tasks. Although probation appears better at the outset, many people that have gone through the process prefer labor detail. Labor detail is faster, and you generally get 2-for-1 credit on days. Depending on what the court gives you, you can knock out labor detail in a few weeks. Probation can drag on for 18 months or more. And while you are on probation, if you get revoked, that means a lot of pain and hardship. And a condition of your probation may be that you submit a urine sample. Submitting a urine sample can be a problem if you are a habitual or casual marijuana smoker. This can put you at at risk of getting in more trouble on probation. If this is the case, you will want to pursue other avenues than probation. Obviously, this is a discussion you will want to have with your attorney.
A Second DWI Charge is a Class A Misdemeanor
If you have been arrested for a DWI before, and that DWI resulted in a conviction, and then you get arrested for DWI again, your second DWI will be charged as a Class A misdemeanor. Using a prior conviction to increase the new charge is called enhancement. DWI can be enhanced from a Class B to a Class A misdemeanor, and can also be enhanced to a third degree felony if there are two prior convictions. Unfortunately, there is no remoteness to the prior, which means that it doesn’t matter how long ago the prior conviction was. It also doesn’t matter if the conviction was in a different state, but to use a prior from another state, there must be substantially similar elements. A conviction carries the following penalties:
- A maximum of 365 days of jail time
- Driver’s License suspension of up to 2 years (occupational licenses are available)
- Up to two years of probation
If you receive probation, the conditions of your probation are up to the judge. The judge can order you to spend 30 days in jail as a condition of probation, although this is severe and rare. Whether jail time is a condition of probation or not depends on many things, including the deal that your attorney can negotiate, the judge, and the county. The county you are in matters a great deal regarding things like this. Johnson County, for instance, often requires jail time as a condition of probation if you go to trial and lose. This is a harsh result for anyone who is convicted, and the reality of this dampens many defendants and attorneys spirit to go to trial.
DWI with a BAC of .15 or Higher is a Class A Misdemeanor
As noted above, the penalty for a misdemeanor DWI will increase if your breath or blood test returns from the lab with a result of .15 grams per deciliter or higher. There are three ways, three modes of testing, to measure alcohol in your blood in the criminal justice system for the purposes of DWI investigation and prosecution. Two have already been discussed. These are breath tests and blood tests. The third is also a blood test, but done at the hospital when there is an accident involved. This is called an enzymatic blood test and tests plasma instead of whole blood. The primary purpose of the enzymatic test is for diagnosis, and not for the precise determination of alcohol in a person's blood. This is important and testing plasma instead of whole blood will elevate the BAC because alcohol is attracted to the water content of the plasma. However, these tests only arise when there is an accident.
When someone is arrested without an accident involved, the police officer will read a person a form called the DIC-24 which explains the license suspensions and consequences of consenting and refusing to take a test. If someone consents they will generally take a breath test, although some police agencies like Southlake, TX, only take blood tests, even on consent. A breath or blood test of .15 grams per deciliter or above, which is almost twice the legal limit, will trigger a couple of things. The first thing that we have discussed is it will be a higher misdemeanor, a Class A instead of a Class B, on a person's first DWI arrest.
Interlock Ignition Device
Also, when a breath or a blood test comes back .15 or higher, you will have to get the interlock ignition device in your vehicle. The ignition interlock is a device that measures the alcohol in your blood by requiring you to exhale into the machine before starting your car. The car will not start unless the machine detects an alcohol-free blow. This will be ordered by law as a condition of bond across the state of Texas. This means that in exchange for you being out of jail, your vehicle will have to be equipped with the device. Mouthwash and gum which contain alcohol and alcohol sugar can set off the device and give a false reading.
DWI with Child Under 15 is a State Jail Felony
If you are arrested on suspicion of DWI, and inside your car is a child under 15 years of age, this will elevate the penalty to a felony charge. This is classified as a state jail felony. A state jail felony is the lowest level of felony charge, but it is significantly more serious than a Class A misdemeanor. Felonies must be indicted before going to a court. This means they go through the grand jury process. A prosecutor will present the case to the grand jury who will vote to indict the case or not indict the case. If a case is not indicted, this is called a "no-bill." It is very easy for cases to get indicted, and almost all arrests for DWI will a child in the car will be indicted. If your case does get indicted, it just means that your case now will get channeled into a District Court that has felony jurisdiction. In larger counties such as Tarrant and Dallas, there are Criminal District Courts that hear exclusively criminal cases. In smaller counties, such as Parker, District Courts have general jurisdiction. This means that in addition to criminal cases, they hear civil cases and family law cases as well as other kinds of cases. Once indicted, your case will be set for pretrial. Like a misdemeanor, you will go to court several times before your case is resolved. State jail felonies have the following range of punishment:
- A minimum of 180 days and a maximum of two years in a state jail facility
- A maximum fines of $10,000
- A felony conviction
Sometimes a state jail felony will be enhanced to a third degree felony, if there is an allegation that a deadly weapon was used. This only means stiffer and more serious penalties. Third degree felonies are discussed below. The charge will be enhanced when prosecutors believe they can prove that a deadly weapon was used in the commission of the crime. A deadly weapon is probably most often a firearm, but in these cases, the deadly weapon can be the car itself. Some prosecutors can and will enhance DWI with a child to a third degree on the theory that the car is a deadly weapon.
Third DWI With Two Prior Convictions Means a Third Degree Felony
If you have had two prior DWI convictions, your third DWI arrest will be charged as a third-degree felony. This is another example of enhancement, discussed above. Felony repetition DWI cases go through the same indictment process described above. To prove that our case is a third DWI, prosecutors will need to prove up the prior convictions to show that you actually have been arrested and convicted twice before, and that those convictions are final. If these all happened in the same county, it will probably be easy. The judgment and sentence from a prior can be obtained from the clerk's office and authenticated fairly easily. However, where this gets tricky is if your prior is from out of state. In these situations, the prior may not be as easily certified, Furthermore, the elements of the crime can differ from state to state sometimes, and if they differ enough it can invalidate the prior. Your defense attorney can argue that the elements are not substantially similar and move to quash the indictment. Regardless, the penalties can be severe for a felony repetition. Felony DWI repetition carries the following DWI punishment:
- Between 2 and 10 years in prison
- Driver’s License Suspension between 180 days and 2 years
- A felony conviction
- Maximum fines of $10,000