Texas DUI laws

Texas DUI laws

by Corie Lynn Rosen, December 2009

Texas law, just like the law of every other state, makes it a crime to operate a car while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Driving under the influence, also referred to as driving while intoxicated, or DWI, is a serious offense punishable by fines, jail time, and mandatory drug and alcohol educational programs and counseling.

An arrest for driving while intoxicated in the state of Texas will trigger two cases, one at the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, the other in the Texas state criminal courts. The Department of Motor Vehicles case, sometimes referred to as the administrative hearing, can result in the suspension of driving privileges.

Because of the potentially severe consequences of the administrative hearing, it is essential that a person arrested for DUI/DWI in Texas request a hearing immediately. The state of Texas takes a strong position on driving under the influence and has full authority to revoke the driving privilege in instances where the state determines that the privilege has been abused.

In addition to the administrative hearing, anyone arrested for driving under the influence will face a Texas criminal charge. Although the standard of proof in the criminal court context is extremely high, convictions are common. The best way to avoid a conviction for driving under the influence is not to drive in a compromised state, however, knowing the law is always helpful since few people, if any, plan to find themselves arrested for DUI.

When people do find themselves before a criminal court on charges of driving while intoxicated, the prosecution may use two possible theories to convict them of DUI. These theories are the per se theory of intoxication and the impaired due to substances theory.

The first of these theories makes it a crime to operate a vehicle in a public place with a blood alcohol content at or greater than the legal limit, which is .08 percent for adults over legal drinking age. The second of these makes it a crime for a person to operate a vehicle in a public place when that person's mental or physical state is impaired due to alcohol or other substances such that he or she cannot operate the vehicle in the ordinarily safe manner that a reasonable person in similar circumstances would. Because blood alcohol testing can be tricky, often giving inconclusive or suspicious results, both theories are often used at trial in order to convict a person suspected of driving while intoxicated.

The court will hear evidence gathered at the time of the arrest, including driving pattern, speech pattern, general appearance, conduct with the arresting officer, and performance of field sobriety tests.

If convicted in court, a first time offender will be subject to fines up to two thousand dollars and jail time between three days and six months. Although the DUI penalties are harsh, judges usually grant probation, often with the additional punishment of drug and alcohol counseling and treatment courses, which can constitute hefty time commitments in and of themselves.