Sober driving is a serious topic for governments across the US, leading to strict laws about driving under the influence. In 2022, 963 people were killed by drunk driving accidents in Texas alone.
However, that’s not the only alcohol-related charge you can face in Texas. Without the right help, they can destroy your life. Let’s talk about DWI and public intoxication laws in Texas and what you can do to avoid the worst-case scenario.
Public Intoxication Penalties in Texas
Public intoxication is classified as a Class C misdemeanor in the state of Texas for adults of legal drinking age (over 21). It’s defined as a person committing an offense if they appear in a public place while intoxicated to a degree to which that person may endanger themselves or another individual.
Moreover, this has to take place on public property to be considered public intoxication. If you are at someone’s home or any other private event, other charges may apply, but public intoxication will not.
Due to the misdemeanor status of public intoxication, these charges carry a risk of up to a $500 fine and a permanent criminal conviction, which can cause serious problems in your life.
However, a second offense is considered a Class B misdemeanor, which is more serious. This carries a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail. If you are facing a second offense, it’s essential to get help.
To understand the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony, read the Texas guidelines to see what weight they carry.
DWI Penalties in Texas
A DWI in Texas is when a person is charged with driving a vehicle with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08. However, you can be convicted for a DWI with any amount of alcohol in your system if it impairs your ability to drive (including boating).
DWI penalties vary between states, and additional charges can also add up to greater sentencing. Common charges that coincide with DWI charges include:
- Public intoxication
- Disorderly conduct
- Child endangerment (if a minor is present in the vehicle)
- Reckless driving
- Open container violations
- Damage to property (in the event of an accident)
- Vehicular manslaughter (if an accident results in death)
Each of these possible charges carries its own penalties and mandatory minimum sentences. Therefore, the information below will only count for a DWI offense.
If your BAC is recorded as higher than 0.15, then charges may increase from a Class C to a Class A misdemeanor. Remember, this can stay on your record for longer and carry worse penalties than the ones listed below.
Also, refusing a breathalyzer or other sobriety tests may result in the same penalties as a DWI relative to your offense. To learn more, you can check out our full DWI information. However, here’s what you need to know about criminal penalties for each offense.
A first-offense DWI in Texas carries risks of up to $2,000 in fines, 180 days in jail upon conviction (three mandatory days), and a suspension of driver’s license for up to one year.
While 180 days is unlikely for a first-time offense with no prior convictions or other charges, it is possible. Three mandatory days in jail can also pose major risks to other aspects of your life.
Moreover, jail time increases to one year for a Class A misdemeanor, and the maximum fine increases to $6,000.
Also, a first offense will impose certain legal restrictions on you upon conviction. For certain people, this includes permanent loss of CDL (which can be reinstated after 10 years under certain circumstances), inability to work in certain industries, and more.
A second-time DWI conviction can result in fines of up to $4,000, one month to one year in jail, and a loss of driver’s license for up to two years. While a judge may be more lenient on a first offense, second offenses show a pattern of behavior, which typically results in higher penalties.
Third and Fourth Offense
Third offenses carry a $10,000 fine, two to 10 years in prison, and loss of driver’s license for up to two years. This carries a minimum of 10 days in jail, assuming your bond was paid within ten days of your arrest.
Moreover, third offenses carry felony charges, which will prevent you from finding work in the future and certainly make future charges more severe.
Also, we should note that any of these offenses can come with additional sentences. This could include Mothers Against Drunk Driving courses, community service, or other responsibilities deemed fit by a judge.
What to Do When Facing Public Intoxication or DWI Charges
If you were charged with DWI or public intoxication, don’t panic. These are some of the most common charges in the state, which means there are time-tested strategies to overcome them. Here’s what you need to know.
Understand the Risks
Public intoxication and DWI don’t just carry the risk of jail time and fines. In many cases, these are the least of a defendant’s concerns.
More importantly, these charges can affect your job and life before you’re even convicted. Employers in Texas are under no obligation to hold your job if you are stuck in a holding cell or receive these charges. This is especially true if your job requires a clean record.
On top of that, future charges will be more severe. Notice that there are worsening penalties for DWIs with each offense. Having a record will make any future charges you face more severe, regardless of their relationship to future crimes.
Also, losing your license or having a criminal record can have lasting implications on other aspects of your life. This includes transporting your children, getting to work, applying for loans or housing, and so much more.
For these reasons and more, it’s essential that you get the right help as soon as possible. Here’s what you need to do.
Understand the DWI Process
When a police officer stops you on the road and determines that you are driving under the influence, they will arrest you. This will include cuffing you, reading you your rights, and booking you at the station.
Once you arrive at the station, you will be fingerprinted, booked, and kept in a holding cell. In some cases, you may stay in a “drunk tank” in a medical facility if law enforcement deems it necessary.
In most cases, you will be arraigned within a few hours to a day or two, depending on the time of your arrest. The arraignment is to set bail, which could be no more than $5,000 for a first offense in Texas. Typically, it’s anywhere from $100 to $1,000, which you or someone else will need to pay for your release.
Upon release, you will receive a court order for your preliminary hearing. Here, you can plead guilty or not guilty.
If you plead guilty, you will be sentenced immediately. If you plead not guilty, your case will go to trial with potentially greater sentences. Either way, it’s essential to have an attorney present during this period.
Also, you may need to find transportation to the area where your vehicle was towed. The police will likely contact a local towing company to get your car off the road unless you have a sober passenger with you. This is something to keep in mind.
Understand the Public Intoxication Process
Assuming you are not in a vehicle, a police officer will likely approach you directly in a public space if they suspect public intoxication. Try your best not to act erratic or threatening in any way. Again, you’re under no obligation to speak with the police officer.
If the law enforcement officer asks for information, you have the right to ask if you’re being detained. If they say yes, you are obligated to stay put. However, if they say no, we recommend you ask if you are free to leave and then quietly leave the area.
Now, if the officer says you are being detained for suspicion of public intoxication, disorderly conduct, or a similar charge, you cannot leave, but you don’t have to answer questions. Doing so may incriminate you.
From there, if the officer decides to arrest you, comply with them and follow these tips. The booking process and arraignment will be the same as a DWI, likely with a bond payment of $200 to $500. Also, you are more likely to stay in a “drunk tank” for a public intoxication charge than with a DWI.
Don’t Make It Worse
Comply with law enforcement as much as possible, but understand what we mean by compliance. You do not have to speak unless you have an attorney present, and we recommend using it to avoid incriminating yourself.
Still, you should not be rude or disrespectful toward them. This will not do anything to help your case.
The last thing you want is additional charges, including disorderly conduct, assault, or criminal threat. While those may not be your intentions, police may interpret your words or actions differently.
If you are stopped when driving while intoxicated, pull over to the side of the road as safely as possible. Remember, you can put your hazard lights on and wait to pull over in a location where you feel safe. The lights will signal to the officer that you intend to pull over.
Once stopped, if the officer asks you to conduct a field sobriety test or chemical test, you have the right to refuse. However, this refusal carries a license suspension of up to 180 days for a first offense, and up to two years for secondary offenses or with a prior DWI.
Whether or not you choose to conduct the test is irrelevant. Upon arrest, allow the officer to cuff you, notify them of any weapons or dangerous/illicit materials on your person, and comply with orders moving forward.
Contact an Experienced Attorney
We’ve seen it time and time again. Unfortunately, a public defender will not offer the same benefits in these cases, as public attorneys work up to 1,500 to 2,000 cases each year. That’s more than 5 a day.
Instead, you need an attorney with the time and resources to manage your case. The help of a trusted DWI attorney with experience in cases just like yours is invaluable. Having this help could be the difference between serving jail time or not.
With the right legal help, you may even get your charges dropped, leaving you with no criminal record. This will offer the least disruption to your life possible.
The right attorney can make sure that the prosecution is using fair tactics, that the court proceedings are fair, and that law enforcement followed proper procedures in your arrest. This can prevent a lengthy trial or even a conviction.
Otherwise, your attorney can help reduce your sentencing and negotiate with the prosecution on your behalf to get you the best deal possible. The fees you’ll pay for an attorney are minuscule compared to the costs of a conviction after fines, lost work, jail time, and lost job opportunities.
Get the Help You Need Today
Now that you know about public intoxication and DWI charges in Texas, there’s no time to waste. The longer you go without the representation you need for your case, the more likely you are to face serious charges. The right legal help can help keep your record clean and prevent worse charges in the future.
Keep reading our blog for our latest legal tips, and don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or for help with your case!