DWI (driving while intoxicated) is one of the most technical and complex areas of criminal law. Every state enforces unique laws and statutes regarding DWI, and each state also enforces different penalties. For example, an individual convicted of DWI in Texas faces fines, jail time, and loss of their driving privileges for an extended period. Additionally, the penalties for DWI convictions increase when defendants have records of past DWI offenses.
It’s very easy for any DWI case to escalate into a complex criminal court case. The average person with little to no formal experience with the Texas criminal justice system would be unlikely to form an effective defense against such charges on their own. Therefore, if you or a loved one was recently arrested for DWI in the Houston area, it’s vital to know your rights and options in this difficult situation.
The Law Office of Joseph Ruiz, PLLC, can offer the legal representation you need when faced with a DWI charge in Houston. Our firm has helped hundreds of clients avoid conviction or minimize their penalties for DWI violations. We have the experience to handle the most complex cases, including felony DWI cases. So, whether you are facing your first DWI charge or enhanced penalties for a second or third DWI offense, it’s vital to speak with a Houston DWI defense lawyer as soon as possible after an arrest.
It is imperative that you hire a lawyer dedicated to staying current on all of the constantly evolving aspects of DWI science and law. We’ve successfully represented hundreds of clients charged with DWI and are extremely knowledgeable in the intricacies of breath testing using infrared spectroscopy, blood draw procedures, blood testing using gas chromatography, the proper administration and grading of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, calculating blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time of driving based on a BAC obtained later in time (retrograde extrapolation), how alcohol is absorbed, distributed and eliminated from the body, proper police procedures in obtaining search warrants, the legality of traffic stops, and all the myriad other factors involved in a DWI case.
The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution ensures that every American has access to defense counsel when they are accused of a crime. The criminal court can have a public defender represent a defendant free of charge in these cases. However, they will not be able to match the level of personalized service you could expect from an experienced private criminal defense lawyer.
When you choose the Law Office of Joseph Ruiz, PLLC, to represent you in a DWI case, you can expect the consistent and aggressive defense of your rights, ongoing support and guidance, and responsive communication with our team as your case unfolds. We will ensure you meet any applicable deadlines when it comes to filing paperwork with the court and assist you in exploring every defense available to you. Our goal is to guide you through your court proceedings as efficiently as possible and to help you have your DWI charges dropped if at all possible. If not, we will work hard to help you secure the lightest possible sentence that interferes with your life as minimally as possible.
Texas state prosecutors pursue convictions in DWI cases quite aggressively, and due to the inherently dangerous nature of DWI, state lawmakers have enacted strict penalties for DWI offenses, especially those that result in injury or death.
Like most other states, Texas uses the BAC measurement system to determine whether a driver is operating their vehicle under the influence of alcohol. If a police officer suspects a driver is under the influence of drugs that can’t be confirmed using BAC measurement devices, they will likely require a blood test after arresting the suspect to confirm they have illicit drugs in their system. The legal BAC limit for most drivers in Texas is .08%. The limit for commercial drivers is .04%, and the state enforces a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under 21, meaning that any detectable BAC percentage qualifies as a DUI offense.
Many drivers operate under the false assumption that if a police officer stops them and asks them to take a breathalyzer test to see their BAC, they must comply with this request. The implied consent law of Texas upholds that every licensed driver offers implied consent to BAC testing after a lawful arrest for DWI.
If a driver refuses to take a field sobriety test or a preliminary alcohol screening with a breathalyzer device, the police officer may think they have enough evidence already to arrest them and conduct the arrest anyway. However, once a driver is arrested for DWI in Texas, they must comply with chemical testing. Refusal to take a test in this situation will lead to a potential automatic administrative suspension of their driver’s license by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), and if they are later convicted of DWI, they will face increased penalties for their refusal.
Like other states, Texas assigns punishments for DWI convictions based on the severity of an offense and the defendant’s past criminal record. Most first DWI offenses qualify as Class B misdemeanors in Texas. If convicted of a Class B misdemeanor DWI offense, the defendant faces fines up to $2,000, jail time of six to 180 days, and suspension of their driver’s license for 90 days to one year.
These penalties increase if a driver has multiple DWI convictions. For example, a second DWI offense will lead to fines up to $4,000, up to one year in county jail, and driver’s license suspension for 90 days to one year. Penalties increase substantially for a third DWI conviction, often entailing a fine of up to $10,000, two to 10 years in prison, and driver’s license suspension for one to two years.
Aggravating factors in a DWI case can increase the defendant’s penalty. For example, DWI with a minor under the age of 15 in the car is a “state jail felony,” punishable by fines up to $10,000 and 180 days to two years in state prison. In addition, driving with a BAC over .15% is an “enhanced DWI,” a Class A misdemeanor with a potential penalty of a $4,000 fine and one year in jail.
Aside from these standard penalties, the judge handling sentencing in a DWI case can also assign additional penalties to the defendant based on the details of the case. For example, the judge could order the defendant to complete a certain number of hours of community service, attend a DWI education course, complete a substance abuse treatment program, or attend DWI victim impact panels that confront them with the surviving loved ones of people killed by intoxicated drivers. Some drivers will also face an ignition interlock device (IID) requirement. This device installs into their vehicle and will prevent it from starting unless they provide a breath sample.
It’s important to note that the standard penalties for a DWI conviction in Texas typically only apply when a driver is stopped by police for erratic driving and/or suspected DWI. When a driver is arrested for causing an accident because of intoxication behind the wheel, they face much harsher penalties. If you caused bodily injury to another person due to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you could be charged with intoxication assault, and the penalties for conviction are severe.
Conviction of intoxication assault is a third-degree felony. The punishment for such a conviction is two to 10 years in state prison and fines of up to $10,000. If the victim was an emergency responder or if they suffered a traumatic brain injury, the offense escalates to second-degree felony status with a potential penalty of a fine of up to $10,000 and two to 20 years in state prison. If the victim was a police officer or court official on duty, the offense escalates to a first-degree felony, and if convicted, the defendant faces five to 99 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
If a DWI accident results in death, the defendant faces a criminal charge of intoxicated manslaughter. This is a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in state prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000. In any case where a defendant harmed or killed another person, they face a civil claim for personal injury from the injured victim or a wrongful death claim from the surviving family of a deceased victim.
If you are arrested for DWI in Houston, it can easily feel as though your situation is hopeless, and you face the worst possible penalties the law prescribes. However, you could have more opportunities to defend yourself than you initially realize, and an experienced Houston DWI defense attorney can help you take full advantage of them.
Remember that in every criminal case, the prosecution is required to prove the defendant is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt, and the defendant must be found guilty by a unanimous jury verdict. Therefore, a defendant can avoid conviction simply due to the prosecution’s case falling apart on its own due to a lack of evidence or issues involving admissibility or credibility of witness testimony. However, if you did not commit the offense in question or believe the prosecution is overly zealous in the penalties it is seeking, it is vital to be as proactive as possible in building your defense.
Texas recognizes a few specific defenses that may help a driver avoid conviction for DWI, such as driving under the influence out of necessity in an emergency or under duress. The defendant could also prove involuntary intoxication. Every person’s physiology is unique, and drugs and alcohol affect everyone differently. Two people could consume the exact same type and quantity of alcohol or drugs and have vastly different reactions, and experience very different levels of impairment.
Many people charged with DWI avoid conviction by arguing the details of the case, such as whether they were truly intoxicated at the time of their arrest. However, drugs metabolize at different rates, and some substances remain detectable in the bloodstream long after their intoxicating effects have faded. For example, marijuana is detectable by a drug test for more than a month in some people, even though the inebriating effects of cannabis usually only last a few hours.
It’s important for anyone facing DWI charges in Texas to understand what happens if their actions result in harm to another person. Many DWI arrests happen following routine traffic stops, reports from concerned citizens who witness erratic driving, and investigations at DWI checkpoints. However, some occur following accidents caused by impaired drivers. If you were operating your vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs and caused an accident with another driver, you face not only harsher penalties for your DWI offense but also civil liability for the victim’s damages.
The judge handling sentencing in your criminal case could require you to pay restitution to the victim as part of your sentence. The victim can also file a civil lawsuit against you for personal injury, seeking compensation for property damage, medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering. In addition, they may file an auto insurance claim against your policy, and this, in combination with the record of your DWI conviction, will likely lead to significantly increased auto insurance premiums or even cancellation of your coverage by your insurer.
Even after you address your civil liabilities and complete whatever sentence is issued to you by the court, you can still face ongoing complications from a past DWI conviction. For example, it may be more than a year before you can legally drive again, or you may have to apply for a restricted license that would allow you to drive to and from work.
The record of a DWI conviction can only be sealed in limited circumstances. Anyone convicted of DWI in Texas will also likely face a host of personal and professional consequences beyond criminal penalties and civil liability to victims of their actions. They will lose standing in their community, and their criminal record for DWI will likely diminish future job prospects. Additionally, they may no longer qualify to receive financial aid or scholarships for college. They could also lose child custody or visitation rights if they endangered their child while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If they refuse to submit to chemical testing after arrest, they also face a potential minimum 6-month administrative suspension of their driver’s license from the Texas DPS.
If you face a DWI charge in Texas, no matter the severity of the offense or how many past DWI convictions you may have, it is essential to have an experienced attorney that you can trust to mount an effective defense on your behalf. With the right defense lawyer handling your case, it’s possible to have your case dismissed in the earliest stages of your proceedings by identifying various procedural errors, technicalities, and failures of the justice system.
Your attorney could seek case dismissal if they have evidence to support the claim that the police lacked credible evidence to conduct the arrest in the first place or if the police violated the defendant’s civil or constitutional rights in any way. In some cases, prosecutors are willing to plea bargain with defendants, offering lighter penalties and/or lowered charges in exchange for guilty pleas that conserve court resources. Your Houston DWI defense lawyer can help you determine whether a plea agreement would suit your best interests.
The Law Office of Joseph Ruiz, PLLC, understands that facing the criminal justice system as a defendant can be an incredibly daunting and stressful experience, especially if it is for the first time. You may feel that the entire system is working against you and have no idea how to defend yourself against the charges you face. The right defense counsel is an invaluable asset in this situation. They will be able to identify your best options for defending against your charges and will guide you through your proceedings as efficiently as possible.
Our team has extensive experience representing Houston area clients in DWI cases. We know how local prosecutors handle these cases and pursue convictions, and we know how to identify our clients’ best opportunities to avoid the worst penalties they face. So, when you choose the Law Office of Joseph Ruiz, PLLC, to represent you in a DWI case, you can expect personalized attention and ongoing counsel through all phases of your case.
Every DWI case involves a different set of facts and a unique individual. The Law Office of Joseph Ruiz, PLLC, has the professional resources and criminal defense experience you need on your side when you are facing a DWI charge in Houston. Contact a Houston DWI lawyer today for a free consultation, so that we can discuss your particular situation and start the work of building a defense tailored to you.