Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) is the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol. DWI charges don't just carry fines and possible jail time; just being charged with a DWI has a social stigma attached to it that can follow you even if you are never convicted. This can unfairly punish drivers who believe they have taken the appropriate precautions but still find themselves under arrest.
It is possible that you can register a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than the legal limit on just a couple of drinks. You also might find yourself under arrest for DWI despite having a BAC that doesn't surpass the legal limit. Thankfully, there are a number of defenses to DWI charges that an experienced defense attorney can use when crafting your defense.
What is Driving While Intoxicated Under Texas Law?
To be found guilty of DWI, the prosecutor must show that you were intoxicated at the time you were operating a motor vehicle. According to the Texas Penal Code, Section 49, intoxication is defined in two ways:
- Not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body; or
- Having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.
The BAC threshold can be lower than 0.08, in some circumstances. For example, drivers under the age of 21 may be convicted for having any trace of alcohol in their system. Texas has a zero-tolerance policy towards underage drinking and driving. Additionally, commercial drivers are subject to a BAC of only 0.04.
Most of the time, DWI cases involve prosecutors presenting objective evidence of intoxication to the court. This is typically a BAC result from a breath, blood, or urine sample. However, in some cases, there is no sample to test. A prosecutor can still prove intoxication using other evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were intoxicated at the time you were operating a motor vehicle. This can include the presence of an open container, an admission to consuming drugs or alcohol, or the results of field sobriety tests.
Potential Punishment for a DWI in Texas
There are a variety of factors that have an effect on potential punishments for a DWI conviction. These include your BAC level, whether you were in possession of an open container, and the number of times you have previously been convicted of DWI.
First DWI Offense in Texas
In most cases, a first-time DWI will be charged as a Class B misdemeanor. The resulting punishment range is between 3 and 180 days in jail, suspended driving privileges for between 90 and 365 days, and a maximum fine of $2,000. However, if your BAC is recorded at .15 or more you will be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. In addition to the license suspension as a Class B misdemeanor, A Class A misdemeanor carries up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $4,000.
While the minimum jail sentence for a first offense DWI is three days, the presence of an open container of alcohol upgrades the minimum to six days in the county jail.
Second Texas DWI Offense
A second offense for DWI is considered a Class A misdemeanor. However, the penalties are stiffer than Class A misdemeanor version of a DWI first offense. A second DWI conviction carries 30 days to 1 year in the county jail. It also mandates a driver's license suspension of between 180 and 365 days in jail as well as a maximum fine of $4,000.
Third or Subsequent DWI Offense
A third DWI conviction under Texas law is a third-degree felony. Regardless of your BAC reading, upon conviction you would face between 2 and 10 years commitment to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. A third degree-felony DWI conviction also carries a driver's license suspension of between 180 days and 2 years as well as a maximum fine of $10,000.
The penalties for a third or subsequent DWI conviction go up substantially from there. Upon your third or subsequent DWI conviction, you could face a prison sentence of between 2 and 20 years if you have previously been sent to prison for a DWI conviction. If you have two prior trips to prison for DWI, a third or subsequent conviction can lead to a sentence of 25 years to life in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Defenses for a DWI Charge in Odessa, Texas
While there is a wide range of potential defenses for most criminal charges, there are two specific areas under which most DWI defenses fall: traffic stop defenses and DWI test defenses.
Traffic Stop Drunk Driving Defenses
Regardless of whether you were intoxicated or not, a police officer cannot pull you over without “reasonable suspicion.” In other words, the officer must observe something that gives them reasonable suspicion that a law has been violated. It doesn't have to be suspicion of drunken driving; an officer can pull you over for any moving violation including speeding, failure to yield, and disobeying a stop sign. If you were stopped unlawfully, any evidence collected after the stop could be excluded by the court. This can mean BAC tests, field sobriety results, and admissions would be ruled inadmissible at your trial.
DWI Chemical Test Defenses
Even if the stop was proper, the prosecutor must also show that you were intoxicated. However, if a test result is found to be unreliable for the court it can't be relied on for a DWI conviction. If a breath test machine isn't correctly calibrated it can lead to a false positive. It's also possible to get false results from law enforcement not following the appropriate process. For instance, residual alcohol or vomit in your mouth can trigger a false result.
Find the Right Odessa DWI Defense Attorney
An experienced DWI defense attorney can help you build a defense that gives you the best shot at a favorable outcome. If you've been charged with a DWI in Odessa, Texas, the Law Office of E. Jason Leach, PLLC is ready to help you fight your DWI charges. E. Jason Leach is a board-certified criminal defense attorney that has dedicated his law practice to defending the accused. To set up a free consultation contact the Law Office of E. Jason Leach today at (432) 552-7000.