Just finished washing down a Bison Blue Burger with some Texan craft beer on the outdoor patio of The Cove when you realize how late it's getting. You start up I-10 but don't get far before you hear the unmistakable sirens of a police cruiser guiding you to the shoulder. Your heart speeds up as you rack your head trying to remember how many drinks you've had, and before you know it, you are outside trying (and failing) to touch your nose. DWI law is more complicated than it might seem at first blush, which is why FindLaw has created this guide to a typical San Antonio DWI case.
License and Registration, Please
If the San Antonio police pull you over under the suspicion of drinking and driving, they will likely administer a Field Sobriety Test, which are simple mental or physical tasks requiring coordination such as standing on one leg. If you fail, you will likely be asked to submit to a breathalyzer exam or a blood or urine alcohol test. If the test results indicate that your Blood Alcohol Content, or "BAC," is above the legal limit, or if you refuse to submit to the test, the officer can arrest you on the spot.
Driver's license holders are required by law to submit to blood, breath and urine exams under Austin's "implied consent" law. The 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. Additionally, the police may forcibly draw blood if you were involved in an accident involving serious injury or death.
Driving While Intoxicated
In Texas, the charge for drunk driving is called a DWI, for Driving While Intoxicated. DWI is usually defined by your BAC, and the maximum legal limit depends on your situation:
- 21 or Older: 0.08%
- Commercial drivers: 0.04%
- Younger than 21: Any alcohol concentration
After your arrest you will receive notice of an arraignment date at the Bexar County Courthouse. You'll have a chance to enter a plea, but 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 evaluate potential defenses.
When your case is called, the judge will ask if you have an attorney. If you cannot afford to hire an attorney ask the judge to appoint an attorney to represent you. Significantly, Bexar County does not have a Public Defenders Office at the trial level so you will be appointed a private attorney, though there is an Appellate Public Defender's Office to help you appeal a conviction.
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. If you are unable to post bail, try contacting a bail bond company in San Antonio, who will typically loan you the full bail amount in exchange for 10%. You can read more about bail bonds in the Texas Bail Bond Handbook.
You will face an Administrative License Revocation after a DWI arrest, where your driver's license will typically be revoked for between 90 days and 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. Failure to timely request a hearing will result in an automatic suspension on the 40th day after you received notice.
You can get back on the road with an "occupational license," which is a restricted license issued to individuals whose driver license has been suspended or revoked that allows you to drive to work, school and other essential household duties. These licenses are usually issued for one year or less and will be accompanied by additional stringent conditions.
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%. Significantly, this differs from almost every other state where borderline cases are permitted to plea to a wet reckless.
Motion to Suppress Evidence
The most common motion filed in a DWI case is a "Motion to Suppress Evidence," which forces the State to prove that your constitutional rights were not violated during the investigative detention. Issues commonly raised in a Motion to Suppress are whether the police officer had reasonable suspicion to stop your vehicle and whether the officer had probable cause to arrest you. If the evidence against you was gathered in a manner inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment, that evidence will be excluded and your charges could be dismissed.
The penalties for DWI are intentionally steep, and your exact sentence depends on the details of your case and the number of prior DWI convictions you've suffered. Texas has a five-year lookback period for your second DWI, and a ten-year lookback period for your third DWI.
- First DWI: between 3 and 180 days jail, 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: between 30 days and 1 year jail, up to a $4,000 fine, up to a two year license suspension and up to a $2000 yearly fee to keep your license for a three-year period;
- A third DWI within ten years is a felony in Texas, and you'll face at least a two-year prison sentence. 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. Furthermore, Texas requires the installation of an Ignition Interlock Device, or "IID," for five years following your second DWI conviction, which can become quite expensive.
Now that you have an idea of what's ahead, you may want to explore FindLaw's section on DWI law or consider scheduling a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney.