An Overview of DWI in Texas

Texas is serious about DWI, or Driving While Intoxicated, and the penalties can be stiff. If you are arrested for DWI, it is strongly recommended that you retain a skilled DWI attorney right away. In addition, it helps to have a thorough understanding of what DWI means in Texas and what penalties you might face. Your attorney will provide specific advice that pertains to your case, but here is a general overview of DWI in Texas.

How Does Texas Define DWI?

Driving drunk or under the influence of drugs is illegal in every state, but each state’s specific laws are slightly different. In Texas, the term “intoxicated” has two different meanings:

  • BAC (blood alcohol content) of .08 percent or higher

  • Impaired mental or physical faculties due to the consumption of alcohol and/or drugs, even if your BAC is under the legal limit

For drivers under the legal alcohol consumption age of 21, any detectable amount of alcohol in the blood is prohibited, while commercial drivers aged 21 and over are limited to a BAC below .04 percent.


Evidence of Intoxication

It is crucial to understand that while your blood, breath, or urine can and most likely will be checked for the presence of alcohol, you may be charged with DWI based on other evidence of intoxication even if you are below the legal limit. This is typically based on the arresting officer’s observations, such as the smell or physical presence of alcohol, your appearance and behavior, and your performance on one or more field sobriety tests.

DWI Penalties

Texas has escalating penalties for multiple DWIs, and judges have a fair amount of leeway within the sentencing guidelines. In general, your first DWI will be considered a Class B misdemeanor with jail time of 3 to 180 days, a fine of no more than $2,000, and a license suspension of 90 to 365 days.

Penalties go up significantly for a second DWI, and by your third DWI, you are looking at potentially being charged with a felony and facing 10 years behind bars. Subsequent DWIs carry even harsher punishments, potentially 25 years to life if you are convicted again after serving two DWI jail terms.

Other factors can also increase DWI penalties, such as the presence of a child in your vehicle, a very high BAC (.15 or above), an open container, or any injury or death that you cause while intoxicated.

Drivers under the age of 21 are prohibited from having any detectable alcohol in their bodies. A first offense typically carries probation, fines, license suspension, community service, alcohol education, and other penalties, but generally no jail time. However, if the same minor is convicted again, penalties escalate, and the second or subsequent DWI for a minor will very likely carry a jail sentence.

Refusing Chemical Testing

Texas law holds that by operating a motor vehicle, you have given implied consent to chemical testing for alcohol or drugs. Therefore, your license will be automatically suspended 40 days after your refusal, for a period of 90 days to two years, unless you request an administrative hearing within 15 days of your refusal.

DWI Education and Intervention Programs

First-time DWI offenders may be placed on probation in lieu of or in addition to jail time, and must attend a 12-hour DWI education program. The course must be completed with 180 days of the time probation starts, or your license will be revoked.

Repeat DWI offenders are likely to be placed in a 32-hour DWI intervention program along with their penalties. This is a more in-depth program designed to encourage repeat offenders to seek treatment for their alcohol or drug issues. You must complete the program, or your license will be revoked.

Those who are under 21 and are convicted of DWI are normally ordered to complete either an alcohol education program for minors or community service. Whichever is ordered, it must be completed within 90 days to avoid a six-month license suspension.

In addition, the judge may order you to install an ignition interlock device on your car. In this case, you will also have a restriction placed on your license that authorizes you to drive only vehicles with this type of device.

Texas DWI laws are complicated, and tend to side with the arresting officer. Because a DWI charge carries harsh consequences, it is vital to hire a DWI attorney immediately after your arrest. Your attorney can help you request appropriate hearings, communicate with court officials, negotiate a plea deal, and in some cases, even have the charges reduced or dropped. With so much at stake, choose an experienced lawyer with a proven track record of success.


With 6 years of experience as a Harris County prosecutor and 12 years of experience representing clients in a variety of family, domestic, and criminal cases, past President of the Montgomery County Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association, Andrea Kolski, has the background you need to win your case. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call Nonstop Justice today at 832-381-3430.