You're driving home from a night of bar hopping through Dirty Sixth when suddenly police sirens and lights flash in your rearview mirror. Many of even the most law-abiding citizens have been through the painful experience of a DWI checkpoint or traffic stop and subsequent arrest. Here is a guide to your Austin DWI case.
If an Austin police officer pulls you over under the suspicion of drinking and driving, the officer will likely begin administering a Field Sobriety Test. The officer will observe your eyes for signs of alcohol use and ask you to perform simple mental or physical tasks requiring coordination. If you fail this test, you will likely be asked to submit to a breathalyzer exam or a blood or urine alcohol test. DWI is usually defined by your BAC Blood Alcohol Content, and the maximum legal limit depends on your situation:
- 21 or Older: 0.08%
- Commercial drivers: 0.04%
- Younger than 21: Any alcohol concentration
Driver's license holders are required by law to submit to blood, breath, and urine exams under Austin's "implied consent" law. Additionally, the police may be able to forcibly draw blood if you were involved in an accident involving serious injury or death. If the test results indicate that your BAC is above the legal limit, or if you refuse to submit to the test, the officer will have probable cause to arrest you on the spot.
Implied Consent Law
Texas' "implied consent law" requires you to take a breath, blood, or urine test if you are lawfully arrested for a DWI for the purpose of determining your BAC or the presence of drugs. Refusal to take any of the tests will result in an immediate suspension of your license for 180 days, while a second refusal will result in a two year suspension.
After arrest your next likely stop will be the "drunk tank" at the local police station. You will be searched and your personal belongings will be confiscated until your release. The police will take down biographical information as well at notes about the arrest and alleged crime. You will then be fingerprinted and led to a holding cell, where you will remain until the police determine that you are no longer drunk.
After your arrest you will receive notice of an arraignment date at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center or one of Travis County's many branch courts. An arraignment is a formal reading of the criminal charges against you, and your opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty. Pleading guilty at an arraignment is usually a bad idea because you waive any opportunity to review the prosecutor's evidence, file motions on your behalf or consider potential defenses.
When your case is called, the judge will ask if you have an attorney. If you cannot afford to hire an attorney the court may appoint one of the attorneys from the Travis County Public Defender roster.
At the end of your arraignment, the judge will set bail, which is a deposit that will be returned to you when you appear at your next scheduled court date. Bail for first time DWI offender will likely be set at $500, but scales up to $2,500 for a second DWI and is increased by another $1,000 for each arrest after that. If you cannot afford bail you can instead get a bail bond, where the bondsman loans you the amount of bail in exchange for 10% of the loan.
You will be subjected to an Administrative License Revocation after a DWI arrest, where your driver's license will typically be revoked for 90 days to two years. However, you can request a hearing with the Texas Department of Public Safety within 15 days of receiving notice of the suspension to determine whether the suspension is valid. If you don't request a hearing before the deadline, you will receive an automatic suspension on the 40th day after you received notice.
Additionally, you may be eligible for an "occupational license," also called an essential needs license. An occupational license is a special type of restricted license issued to individuals whose driver license has been suspended or revoked that will allow you to drive to and from work, school and other essential household duties.
Texas law contains specific prohibitions against plea bargains for lesser charges when the driver is found to be driving with a BAC of more than 0.08%.
The penalties for DWI are steep and they become progressively harsher with each subsequent conviction. Your exact sentence depends on the specific details of your case and the number of prior DWI convictions you have. Texas has a five-year lookback period for your second DWI, and a ten-year lookback period for your third DWI.
- First DWI: jail time 3 to 180 days, up to a $2,000 fine, up to a two year license suspension and up to a $2,000 yearly fee to keep your license for a three-year period;
- Second DWI: jail time 30 days to 1 year, up to a $4,000 fine, up to a two year license suspension and up to a $2000 yearly fee to keep license for a three-year period;
- Third DWI: a third DWI within ten years is a felony in Texas, and you will be sentenced to at least two years in prison, and possibly up to ten years. You will also suffer up to a $10,000 fine, up to a two year license suspension and up to a $2000 yearly fee to keep license for a three-year period.
Additionally, DWI with a passenger under the age of 15 could result in a felony conviction with penalties similar to a third DWI, even if it is your first conviction.
Texas requires the installation of an Ignition Interlock Device, or "IID," for five years following your second DWI conviction. An IID is a small breathalyzer installed on a vehicle's dashboard that requires the driver to submit a breath sample before the car will start. You will bear the costs of installing and maintaining the IID for the entire period as a condition of having your driving privileges restored.
Now that you have an idea of what's ahead, you may want to explore FindLaw's section on DWI law or find a DWI attorney to help you with your case.