Texas Penalties on First DWI Offense

While the Texas legal system is unique in many ways, the state is consistent when it comes to trying first offenses lighter than repeat offenders. Outside of the time being detained (up to 72 hours), you can expect to do no jail time. However the state also gives judges quite a bit of flexibility and we'll talk about what that means on this page.

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Process of DWI Arrest

For a brief overview of the process, we’re going to break down Texas’ DWI process into four steps. As a roadmap, the basic elements are (1) first being pulled over by a police officer, (2) being sent to a temporary holding facility (jail), (3) the arraignment where the judge will hand down your sentence, and, finally, (4) how you can and will fulfill that sentence.

Note the relevant Texas statutes for Driving While Under the Influence can be found in Title 7, Section 521 of the Transportation Code.

The Police Stop

The process begins when an officer pulls you over. The reason the officer pulled you over does not have to be for suspicion of drunk driving. It could be because your tail light is out, or you failed to yield at a crosswalk. However, once the officer has pulled you over, the officer is allowed to begin a field sobriety test to determine whether you are intoxicated if they have reasonable suspicion.

The most commonly asked question at this stage is: should I refuse the field sobriety test?

Though it is entirely your right as a citizen not to take the test, refusal to do so comes with automatic penalties. Why? This is because of a law in Texas known as “implied consent.” It is assumed that anyone operating a motor vehicle in the state, in the eyes of the law, has given consent to being tested (chemically) for their blood alcohol concentration level (or BAC for short).

Perhaps the most notable of the automatic penalties is the automatic suspension of the driver’s license for at least 180 days. That is nearly double the 90 days you can expect to have your license suspended if you fail the test and are found guilty of a DWI, first offense.

Incarceration

Let’s say you do submit to the testing, and the officer determines that you are, in fact, intoxicated. From there, you will be incarcerated for no more than 72 hours. If somebody does post bail for you, you may leave while awaiting arraignment. However, if not, you will most likely have to spend the night in a jail cell until a judge can arraign you.

Arraignment

Arraignment is your first appearance in court for your DWI offense. The judge assigned to your case will make sure that you understand the charges and then ask you to plead. At this point, if you have the means, you should speak to a DWI attorney before submitting your plea.

Considering it is your first DWI and presumably, no extenuating circumstances apply, a plea of guilty will most likely result in immediate sentencing by the judge.

Penalty For First DWI In Texas

Now we’re assuming that, either on your own or as advised by your attorney, you have pleaded guilty before the court for driving while under the influence. There are two major types of penalties you will likely be met with by the judge: fines and license suspension.

The fine, per Texas statute, will be an amount of up to $2,000. This does not take into account the amount you pay to an attorney to represent you or the costs of retrieving your car from wherever it was towed.

The second penalty that you will definitely receive is that you will have your license suspended, probably for 90 days. A challenging 90 days for sure, but if you pay your court fees, have no extenuating circumstances, and do not violate any of the judge’s orders, your license will be reinstated after that period. Read our article on laws and consequences for receiving a 2nd DWI offense

Extenuating Circumstances

We’ve consistently mentioned how “extenuating” circumstances might impact every part of the process, from the police stop to the ultimate penalty the judge sentences you to. So let’s go over some of those circumstances now.

If you are excessively over the legal limit: The current legal limit in Texas (updated, 2022) is .08% for those 21 and over (note those under 21 are given DUI’s in Texas, and their BAC limits are .04%). If you are several times the legal limit when you receive your DWI arrest, you may in for additional penalties by the judge.

If a child was in the car (specifically if they are injured): This becomes more of an issue when considering drivers who have previous DWI convictions, however receiving a DWI with a minor in the vehicle may already be a red flag for the judge simply because it shows a certain level of negligence that you were willing to risk the life of a minor.

If someone was injured: Outside of the civil liabilities, one may receive for having an accident while under the influence, more severe criminal penalties may likely result if someone was injured as a result of you driving under the influence.