Houston DWI defense lawyer Matt Sharp explains what to expect after your first drunk driving charge
Texas has some of the strictest laws in the country when it comes to driving under the influence, and the penalties have never been more severe than they are today — even for first-time offenders.
A DWI (driving while intoxicated/impaired) charge happens when a police officer stops a person for a traffic offense and can prove that the driver is operating their vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Texas law states that it’s a crime for any person operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher.
Officers commonly charge people with impaired driving after observing the way they act during the traffic stop. A driver who is visibly having motor control problems will likely be asked to exit the vehicle to undergo a series of field sobriety tests.
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Failing these tests allows the officer to establish the DWI and make the arrest. Being convicted of a first-time DWI offense creates serious challenges for a person, including losing their ability to drive, losing their job, paying costly fines, attending court-ordered alcohol treatment programs, doing community service and facing possible jail time.
Talk to experienced DWI defense attorney Matthew Sharp about the best defense strategy for you.
If this is your first run in with the law or DWI offense, you’re probably anxious, scared and unsure what to do next. Should you fight your first DWI? Absolutely.
A driver must file an ALR hearing request within 15 days from the date the suspension notice is served in order to not have their license automatically suspended.
Are you facing a first-time DWI arrest?
The fight is just beginning.
The long-term consequences of pleading guilty to a DWI charge are serious, even if it’s your first offense. This is not your only option. You should fight to avoid these repercussions by contacting me immediately.
My results-driven approach means I can bring invaluable insights from past victories to help in your case.
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I brought Matt an almost no-win case and he was able to help me change a negative to a positive. His advice is solid and staight forward. I highly recommend The Law Office of Matthew Sharp.
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Penalties for First-Time DWI Charges in Texas
One of the most common questions we get is: “Is my first DWI a felony in Texas?“
When it comes to DWI charges, a first offense is typically charged as a misdemeanor. But a misdemeanor of this type carries with it the possibility for some of the harshest penalties for a crime in this category. While the final sentence you’re given will depend on the individual circumstances of your case, generally a person convicted of a DWI first offense in Texas will be charged with a Class B misdemeanor. That means you’ll face between 2 to 180 days in a county jail, and a fine of no more than $2,000. It’s possible you also may have to have an ignition interlock device installed on your car and your driver’s license could be suspended.
However, you should understand that this is the minimum charge that can be leveled against you.
Even if this is your first DWI, certain contributing factors may lead to enhanced charges. The most common scenarios that involve enhanced first-time DWI charges are:
- DWI involving a minor. If a person under 15 is in the vehicle when the defendant is arrested, then the driver will be charged with a state jail felony. Sentences may include 180 days to 2 years in a state jail, and a fine of no more than $10,000.
- DWI involving an assault. If another person is seriously injured while the defendant is driving while intoxicated, this is considered a third-degree felony. Sentences may include 2 to 10 years in a state prison, and a fine of no more than $10,000.
- DWI involving a death. If another person is killed while the defendant is driving while intoxicated, this is considered a second-degree felony known as “intoxication manslaughter.” Sentences may include 2 to 20 years in a state prison, and a fine of up to $10,000.
- DWI involving high intoxication. If the driver has a BAC of .15 or more, this is elevated to a Class A misdemeanor — meaning the fine may increase to a maximum of $4,000 and jail time increases to up to 1 year.
Cost of a DWI in Texas First Offense
Another question we commonly get asked is: How much does a DWI in Texas cost if it’s your first offense?
Ultimately, it depends on whether your charge is general or elevated because of a minor in the vehicle, serious injury or extreme intoxication (a BAC of .15 or more).
In cases of general (not enhanced) DWI, you’re looking at having to pay a maximum fine of up to $2,000 plus administrative court fees if convicted of a Class B misdemeanor. Texas also imposes a 3-year annual license surcharge which can range from $1,000 to $2,000.
Other costs can add up over time such as legal fees, probation fees, bail, increased insurance rates, interlock system installation fees, getting your car out of impound, etc. When all is said and done, the total cost of a first-time DWI charge can add up to $15,000 or more.
Best Defense Strategies for First-Time DWI Charges
There are some circumstances that can lead to your DWI charge being dismissed entirely.
For example, if the police officer didn’t have probable cause to stop your vehicle or they administered the field sobriety test inappropriately, your case may be dismissed under 18 U.S. Code § 3118.
The officer must have had “reasonable suspicion,” based on arguable and observable facts, that the driver was impaired. Even if you were driving under the influence, police misconduct could get your DWI charges dismissed.
Also, many officers aren’t properly trained to use breathalyzer machines, thus leaving room for error. Texas DWI cases rely heavily on field sobriety test results. Unfortunately, breath tests do malfunction and are subject to improper use. Perhaps it picked it up on residual mouth alcohol from recent dental work and signalled a false positive. If your lawyer can challenge the accuracy of these tests enough to cast sufficient doubt on the results, then the evidence may be thrown out and the prosecution’s case will have little standing.
8 Ways a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help Your Case
Are you unsure of where to go for help after getting arrested?
Learn more about how hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney will help your chances at freedom.
Do You Need a Defense Lawyer for a First Time DWI?
Maybe, like so many others, you’re facing your first DWI charge. You might be concerned about the cost of dealing with the case, and therefore tempted to try to represent yourself, accept a “guilty” plea or find a public defender to represent you. Don’t make this common mistake!
If this is your first drunk driving offense or your first run in with the law, we strongly recommend that you speak with an experienced DWI defense attorney immediately to discuss your case. DWI law in Texas is complicated and constantly changing.
Time is not on your side when fighting a DWI charge in Texas. If you’ve been arrested for driving while intoxicated for the first time, it’s important you know what actions to take next and learn the best ways to beat a drunk driving charge.
The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp employs aggressive defense techniques to help our clients win in court and get their DWI charge dismissed. We protect our clients’ public and private lives by making sure criminal charges are thoroughly examined for weaknesses. Schedule your free initial consultation to talk to Houston DWI defense attorney Matt Sharp as soon as possible.