Chapter 49 of the Texas Penal Code defines the various circumstances under which one can be charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) or simply, drunk driving. The law defines intoxication as having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more, or a situation where one is unable to use their mental and physical faculties generally due to the introduction of alcohol, drugs, or other controlled substances into the body. If you’re operating a commercial vehicle, the Code limits your BAC to 0.04%.
To most people, this law might seem clear enough at first glance, but when it comes to the actual interpretation, you might be in for a few surprises. If you’re facing criminal charges for DWI in Houston or elsewhere in Texas, contact Attorney Tad A. Nelson by phone at 713-489-7373.
You can be arrested for DWI even if you aren’t drunk
Yes, it is possible to get arrested for DWI in Texas even when your BAC is lower than 0.08%. There’s a story of an Austin man who was pulled over by cops in 2013 for running a stop sign. The police noted that the man behaved in an inebriated manner in the course of the stop hence they had to administer field sobriety tests to him. The man was asked to sway and use his arms for balance, but his performance didn’t convince the cops that he could operate his motor vehicle safely.
He was arrested and taken to the police station where he consented to a breath test, although he blamed poor balance for his performance in the field tests. According to the breath test, he had a 0.00% BAC, meaning that he hadn’t taken any alcohol. He also had a blood test which revealed his system was clear of alcohol and other drugs. In spite of this evidence, the man was still forced to spend a night in jail.
The legal approach in this case
Under the Texas DWI law, cops have significant mandate to discreetly determine if a driver is sober enough to operate an automobile. Even if your BAC level is below 0.08% like the driver, in this case, the police can still consider you to be intoxicated if you display any signs of impairment in your mental and physical faculties. A cop can determine if you are physically or mentally impaired based on observations such as slurred speech, lack of coordination, or erratic driving.
Texas has zero tolerance for DWI if you’re below 21 years
If you are below 21 years of age in Texas, the law doesn’t allow you to test positive for any alcohol concentration in the blood while driving. If any amount of alcohol is detected in your system while operating a motor vehicle, you may be charged under DUI by a minor, and if found guilty, you may be required to pay a fine of up to $500 if you are a first offender. Consequent offenses are punishable by a jail term of up to 180 days, a fine of between $500 and $2,000, or both.
DWI charges amount to a felony if you’ve had previous convictions
Texas law on drunk driving is very strict on third and subsequent offenses, and it considers it as a 3rd-degree felony. If you are taken to court for driving while intoxicated for the third time, and the judge finds you guilty, you can be sentenced to between two – ten years in prison. However, you may also be charged with more serious offenses related to drunk driving, such as causing the death of a person. For example, On February 2, 2018, a Texas man was sentenced to 50 years in jail for causing an accident in which three members of a family died. According to the office of Harris County District Attorney, the man had been convicted of drunk driving thrice before the unfortunate accident.