Download and print the PDF Legal First Aid — DWI Edition
(Telling you what to do if a loved one is arrested for DWI in Harris County.)
Penalties for driving while intoxicated in Texas become more severe, it seems, every year.
In the most recent changes to DWI law, the Texas Legislature imposed a $1,000 surcharge on the driver’s license of a person convicted of a misdemeanor DWI for three years following the conviction. So if you are convicted of DWI (even if you receive probation) you will have to pay an extra $1,000 to the Department of Public Safety every year for three years to keep your driver’s license.
The first DWI is a class “B” misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. The second DWI is a class “A” misdemeanor with a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. The third DWI is a third degree felony, with a minimum of two years and a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Most people charged with their first DWI will receive probation (if they want probation). This is true whether they plead guilty or go to trial. That is, you will likely receive essentially the same punishment if you go to trial and lose as if you plead guilty. If you go to trial, however, you may win, and avoid all punishment.
Clients who have received DWIs have told us that, once they have a DWI on their record, every time they get pulled over by the police they get hassled. If they have had anything to drink (even if they are not intoxicated) they wind up being taken to jail.
If you are acquitted, you don’t serve jail time or probation; you don’t pay the extra $1,000 per year to DPS; the case can be removed (“expunged”) from your record and it won’t be used to increase your punishment if you get charged with another DWI later.
It should be obvious at this point that, if all else is equal, given a choice between pleading guilty to probation or going to trial and either getting an acquittal or probation, you should choose the trial with the chance of acquittal.
If you don’t want probation, you can ask the jury to set punishment and not ask for probation. Typical non-probation DWI punishment (when set by a jury) is 3 days or less in jail, and a small fine. (We have seen juries sentence people to 0 days in jail and a $100 fine.)
If you are arrested for DWI and fail a breathalyzer test or refuse to take the breathalyzer test (if you are stopped and have been drinking, don’t take the breathalyzer test), your driver’s license can be suspended under the state’s Administrative License Revocation (“ALR”) law. You have two weeks after your arrest to get a lawyer to request an ALR hearing to try to keep your license from being suspended. The hearing serves two purposes: first, your lawyer may be able to keep your license from being suspended; and second, the hearing gives your lawyer a chance to cross-examine the officer and get him telling his story on the record. Often this record is useful at trial.
Our fee to handle a first DWI in Harris County includes the ALR hearing, and all proceedings in criminal court including a jury trial if necessary, a dismissal if possible, or a plea if appropriate (for example, if the charge is reduced from DWI).