Texans don’t mess around when it comes to driving while intoxicated (DWI), The Great State, known nationwide for swift justice and firm sentences, gets tough on people drinking and driving in the Metroplex. Read this guide for an outline of the many possible, and often severe, consequences for driving while intoxicated.
In Dallas (and all of Texas) it is a crime to drive in a public space with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or more. Please note that you do not have to be "drunk" to be intoxicated under the law. You may notice that the required BAC of 0.08% is the same percentage of alcohol required for a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Operating Under the Influence (OUI) charge in other states. The only difference is the name.
Your DWI case can typically develop one of two ways. Either you have (a) failed a sobriety test or (b) you refused to take one. The consequences and process for getting your license back will vary depending on the choices you make.
Scenario 1: You failed a blood/breath test.
Arrest. If you fail a blood or breath test, you will be arrested. Dallas County arrestees are usually booked in the Lew Sterrett Justice Center. Each of the surrounding counties has a jail where drunk drivers may be held. You may be released from custody on bond or simply on a promise to return to court for your arraignment. This is your earliest opportunity to ask for a Dallas County Public Defender. Most counties in Texas, however, simply assign free, private attorneys to defendants who cannot afford one.
Administrative License Revocation. Upon your arrest, the arresting officer will seize your license as part of an Administrative License Revocation. You will have 15 days to appeal the revocation with the State Office of Administrative Hearings ("SOAH"). You can have an attorney present.
Arraignment. Your first court appearance will be your arraignment. This is when the court will notify you of the specific charges and your various legal rights. The arraignment is usually scheduled within 30–60 days of your arrest. In Dallas County, arraignments take place at the Frank Crowley Courts Building, located at 133 N. Riverfront Blvd. Search FindLaw for more information on Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington courts.
Several weeks after the arraignment, your attorney (or you, if self-represented) will meet with the prosecutor to discuss a possible plea bargain.
Suppression Hearing and Trial. Immediately before trial your attorney may file motions to suppress evidence, which are one of the tools used by defense attorneys to protect their clients. Following the hearing, you will entitled to either (1) a jury trial with either six or twelve jurors to decide your case, or (2) a bench trial with a judge to decide your case. Keep in mind that it may take the courts longer than expected to hear your case. In Fort Worth (Tarrant County), there have been known to be extreme delays in some cases.
Sentencing. If you are convicted or enter a plea bargain, the judge will assign you with a sentence. Under Texas law, the sentence will include fines and jail/prison time. The judge may also require that you participate in substance abuse classes, and/or community service and install an ignition interlock device.
If convicted of DWI, you will be jailed for at least 72 hours and possibly up to 180 days. You will also be fined for an amount up to $2,000 with extra annual fees for three years just to keep your license. Third, your license may be suspended for 90 days to a year.
Drivers caught with an open container can expect to be jailed for at least six days. The punishments also grow more severe for second and subsequent offenses. Although ordinary DWI offenses are misdemeanors, you can be charged with a felony if your DWI case occurred with a child in the car or if any person was seriously injured or killed in an accident that you caused.
Scenario 2: You refused a blood or breath test
If you refuse a chemical sobriety test, a law enforcement officer can immediately begin an Administrative License Revocation. He or she will physically confiscate your license but issue a 15 day driving permit. You will now have 15 days to ask for a hearing with the State Office of Administrative Hearings. SOAH will either uphold your suspension—meaning that your license will be suspended for 180 days—or overturn your suspension. The suspension period is two years for second and subsequent test refusals.
Even if you refused a chemical test, you can still be charged with DWI. In that case, all of the court procedures described above under Scenario 1 would apply to your case.
Some Dallas-area counties have "no-refusal weekends." Typically occurring on holiday weekends, even if you refuse a chemical test, officers may forcibly remove a blood sample. If your BAC is at or above 0.08%, you will be prosecuted for DWI.
Occupational Driver License (ODL)
Drivers with a suspended license may apply for an Occupational Driver License. An ODL allows drivers with a suspended license to drive a non-commercial vehicle to work, school-related activities, and while performing necessary household duties. There is a three-step process to getting an ODL.
Step 1: First, pay your License Re-instatement Fees or check with the Department of Public Safety to see if you qualify for a fee reduction or payment plan. You can access the Department of Public Safety online to pay your fees.
Step 2: Apply for a court order allowing the Department of Public Safety to issue an ODL. A driver must apply in the court of his/her DWI offense or in county or district court where he/she resides. For example, if you live in Arlington, but you were caught DWI in Dallas, you can apply for an ODL in either (1) the Dallas court that heard your DWI case, or (2) Tarrant County Court. Check out FindLaw for more information on Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington courts.
Step 3: When you have the court order, you can use that as a temporary driver license for 30 days. During that time, obtain a (1) Financial Responsibility Insurance Certificate (SR-22) to go with certified copies of your (2) petition for a court order and (3) the court order itself. Submit all three documents to the Department of Public Safety with a payment of $10 to:
Texas Dept. of Public Safety
Enforcement and Compliance Service
P.O. Box 4087
Austin, TX 78773-0320
Driving After a Dallas DWI Conviction
Any DWI offender wishing to regain driving privileges in Big D or anywhere else in Texas must first complete a list of tasks. Applicants for license reinstatement must: (1) complete the term of suspension or revocation; (2) pay all applicable fines; (3) complete any substance abuse program assigned; (4) serve the complete jail sentence; (5) perform all assigned community service; and (6) pay all reinstatement fees and subsequent fees.
Ignition Interlock Devices
After a DWI conviction, a judge may decide that your license can be reinstated only if you install an ignition interlock device ("IID"). If so, you have 30 days to install an IID or the Department of Public Safety will cancel your driving privilege. The Department’s website features links to lists of approved IIDs and service centers. There are several service centers in the City of Dallas and even more in the surrounding Metroplex.