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This prom season remember: Texas has a zero-tolerance policy for minor DWI

Young woman in prom dress being arrested

After the pandemic shut down last year’s fun, the excitement around prom 2021 is palpable. Older teens are thinking about dresses, limos, dates, and dancing.

Amanda Webb - DWI Lawyer would like to add safety to that list of considerations.

Prom is a notoriously dangerous time for underage drunk driving. In one year, more than one-third of youth under the age of 21 killed in alcohol-related fatalities died during prom season, the months of April, May, and June, according to AAA.

Texas has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to people under age 21 drinking or possessing alcohol. The punishments for breaking these rules can be severe. Texas has no problem trying minors as adults in drunk driving situations.

Penalties for driving impaired, drinking, or possession of alcohol as a minor can include fines, jail time, loss of driving privileges, community service, and mandatory education.

A driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence of alcohol (DUIA) conviction can ruin a person’s life before they even reach adulthood.

If you are a minor who was arrested or otherwise has been charged with drunk driving or related charges, you have rights. One of the best ways to protect your rights when you're facing DWI charges is to contact an experienced attorney who can help you understand your case and weigh your legal options.

Texas underage DWI, alcohol laws

Texas has separate alcohol statutes for people under age 17, people ages 17-21, and those 21 and older.

If you are under age 21 and are stopped by a police officer on prom night, or any other time, for suspicion of driving with alcohol in your system, here is what you should know:

  • A police officer must first have a reasonable suspicion that a suspect is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol before initiating a traffic stop.
  • The officer will stop the vehicle and ask the driver to perform a sobriety test.
  • If an officer suspects any detectable alcohol is in a minor driver’s system - even at levels below the 0.08% BAC standard - the officer can choose to handcuff and arrest the youth, have the car towed, and then bring the minor to a jail or police station for a breathalyzer test or a hospital/clinic for a blood alcohol test.

Implied consent of minors

Texas has implied consent laws for minors. That means that if a person under 21 is reasonably suspected of having any detectable alcohol in their system, they have automatically consented to a breathalyzer or blood test to determine the level of alcohol and/or drugs in their system.

If a minor refuses to take a breathalyzer, blood, or another similar test, the minor can be placed in jail until they are bonded out or make an appearance before a magistrate or juvenile court judge. The minor's driver's license will be suspended for 180 days the first time and 2 years for second or subsequent refusals.

Minors and alcohol penalties

Texas has alcohol-related penalties regarding minors providing, buying, drinking, and driving with booze in their systems. In serious cases, a minor can be charged as an adult for alcohol-related offenses.

The following are some of the charges and penalties a person may face:

Driving under the influence of alcohol (DUIA) by a minor (people under 17 years of age)

A fine of no more than $500 can be assessed for each offense:

  • First offense: 20-40 hours of community service, suspension of driver’s license for 60-180 days, mandatory attendance in an alcohol awareness course.
  • Second offense: 40-60 hours of community service, suspension of driver’s license for 120 days to 2 years, attendance in an alcohol awareness course.
  • Third offense: 40-60 hours of community service, suspension of driver’s license for 180 days to 2 years.

Non-driving alcohol-related offenses by a minor

Trying to buy alcohol if you’re underage, falsely identifying as 21 years old to fool someone into selling you alcohol, and consuming or possessing an alcoholic beverage are all considered non-driving alcohol-related offenses. The penalties for such offenses, as well as public intoxication, are:

  • First offense: A fine of no more than $500, 8-12 hours of community service, suspension of driver’s license for 30 days, attendance in an alcohol awareness course.
  • Second offense: A fine of no more than $500, 20-40 hours of community service, suspension of driver’s license for 60 days, attendance in an alcohol awareness course.
  • Third offense (for people 17 years of age or older, but under 21): A fine of $250-$2,000, 40-60 hours of community service, up to 180 days in jail, suspension of driver’s license for 180 days.

Driving while intoxicated by a minor (17-21 years of age)

  • First offense: A fine of no more than $2,000, 72 hours to 180 days in jail, suspension of driver’s license for 1 year. The length of suspension can be reduced to 90 days if the court orders community supervision and requires the use of an ignition interlock device.
  • Second offense: A fine of no more than $4,000, 30 days to 1 year in jail, suspension of driver’s license for 180 days to 18 months.
  • Third and subsequent offenses: A fine of no more than $10,000, 2-10 years in prison, suspension of driver’s license for 180 days to 2 years.

Minors charged as adults

In extreme cases, Texas courts will try minors as adults in drug and alcohol-related offenses. If convicted, the minor would receive the same penalties as an adult, which are:

  • First offense: A fine of no more than $2,000, 72 hours to 180 days in jail, suspension of driver’s license for 90-365 days. If there was an open container of alcohol in the vehicle at the time, the minimum stay in jail is increased to 6 days. A judge can show leniency and waive the jail time and license suspension, but only for a first offense.
  • Second offense: A fine of no more than $4,000, 30-365 days in jail, suspension of driver’s license for 180 days to 2 years.
  • Third and subsequent offenses: A fine of no more than $10,000, 2-10 years in a penitentiary, suspension of driver’s license for 180 days to 2 years.

Other felony adult DWI charges could be tacked on:

  • Intoxication assault: A fine of no more than $10,000, 2-10 years in prison, suspension of driver’s license for 180 days to 2 years.
  • Intoxication manslaughter: A fine of no more than $10,000, 2-20 years in prison, suspension of driver’s license for 180 days to 2 years.

What adults need to know

Purchasing or otherwise providing a minor with an alcoholic beverage in Texas is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and/or 80 days in jail. Selling an alcoholic beverage to a minor can result in a fine of up to $4,000 and/or up to 1 year in jail.

Protect your rights and learn your options

The state of Texas likes to make it seem like DWI and DUIA charges can't be disputed, but an experienced DWI lawyer knows what to look for to poke holes in a case. For instance, a failed breathalyzer test does not mean you are automatically guilty. In fact, many courts are starting to reject preliminary or portable breath test evidence because the results are unreliable.

A good opportunity to push back against a drunk driving charge is to request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge to argue that the officer did not have probable cause to stop and arrest you for the presence of detectable drugs or alcohol.

Amanda Webb is a former assistant district attorney who has been defending clients in Sugar Land, the Woodlands, Houston, Conroe, Montgomery and Waller counties for more than a decade. Attorney Webb is well-versed in prosecution strategy and knows what it takes to get charges reduced or dropped.

If you or a loved one has been arrested for a Texas alcohol offense, contact us today for a free case consultation.

Your rights before, during, and after a DWI arrest

An officer places handcuffs on another man with his hands behind his back

It's not widely known, but if you get stopped for allegedly driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Texas you have more rights than you might think.

It's important to take advantage of those rights to avoid a misstatement or stumble that could cost you your license to drive, fines, and possibly jail time.

For years, Amanda Webb - DWI Lawyer has successfully defended people against DWI charges. Attorney Webb has gained a wealth of experience and knowledge with Texas' DWI process and prosecutions. She has developed valuable insights and expert advice to share with drivers about what happens if they're accused of driving while intoxicated, what their rights are, and how to best get through the ordeal.

To avoid the pitfalls of a driving-while-intoxicated motor vehicle stop, get to know your rights before you see the police lights flashing in your rearview mirror. Here are a few tips on how to handle a DWI.

The initial stop

Always pull to the side of the road when an emergency vehicle or police cruiser is approaching with their lights activated. Once you've stopped your vehicle, a police officer who suspects you of driving while intoxicated will begin the investigation by going over why you were stopped.

To avoid escalation of the situation, stay calm and keep your hands where the police officer can see them.

The police officer will ask for your license and vehicle registration - have this paperwork readily accessible to you.

Unlike other criminal investigations, you most likely will not hear the officer read you your Miranda rights at the stop. These rights still apply, however. You have the right to remain silent and the right to consult an attorney prior to answering questions. You do not, however, have a right to consult with an attorney before refusing to take a sobriety test.

Refusing to take sobriety tests

In Texas, you have the right to decline sobriety tests, though this option comes with a risk.

If an officer smells alcohol on your breath, observes red, bloodshot eyes, slumping, and/or slurring of your speech, the officer will most likely ask you to take a field sobriety or breath test. If you refuse to take either test, you can be arrested under Texas' implied consent law. You can be arrested even if you're completely sober. Declining to take the tests could also lead to your license being suspended for 180 days.

A blood alcohol test may be mandatory, however, if you appear to be extremely intoxicated.

Failing sobriety tests

In Texas, you are legally intoxicated when your blood alcohol concentration reaches at least 0.08%.

If you fail a sobriety test, it's almost certain you will be arrested for DWI and transported to jail. During the transportation and after, you may be audio and video recorded. This evidence could later be used against you in court. You have the right to consult an attorney before answering a law enforcement officer's questions.

Penalties

DWI penalties in Texas can be harsh.

If you are found guilty of a first offense DWI you could be fined up to $2,000, go to jail for up to 180 days, and lose your license for up to one year.

For a third offense, the fine increases to $10,000, you can lose your license for up to two years, and you can go to prison - instead of jail - for up to 10 years.

If you are charged with DWI and a child was in the vehicle at the time of the incident, you can also be charged with child endangerment.

Make sure you know your legal rights and options

DWI cases are not as black and white as they may first appear. While you may think you're out of options, an experienced attorney may be able to help you beat the charges or get them reduced.

Attorney Amanda Webb knows how to break down a prosecutor's seemingly air-tight case. Was the initial stop even legal? Were your rights upheld during the booking process? Do the police officer's statements in court match what actually happened? Meanwhile, evidence casting doubt on the accuracy of sobriety tests is becoming more accepted by the courts.

Attorney Webb knows what evidence is needed to get a DWI charge thrown out. If you or someone you love is facing a DWI charge, contact us today for a free case consultation. Based in Conroe, TX, we serve clients in the Houston area, The Woodlands area, as well as Montgomery and Waller counties.

Types of DWI charges in Texas

DWI charges in Texas

There are many different types of DWI charges in Texas that carry serious legal and lifelong consequences. Below, Amanda Webb - DWI Lawyer discusses the types of charges and consequences you may face if pulled over and arrested for drunk driving.

If you're arrested and charged with a DWI, it's critical that you speak to an experienced attorney as soon as possible. We can help you devise an effective legal defense by disputing the breath or chemical test results and potential errors police made during your traffic stop and arrest.

Misdemeanor DWI charges

If you've been charged with a DWI in Texas, the stakes are high, even if it's your first drunk driving arrest. A first-time DWI offense (with a BAC of .08 percent but below .15 percent) is deemed a Class B misdemeanor in Texas. The same consequences apply if you were charged with boating while intoxicated. The penalties for this type of charge are:

  • Up to 6 months in jail
  • $2,000 fine
  • Driver's license suspension between 90 days and one year
  • Driver's license reinstatement fee of $3,000
  • Probation

If your BAC was .15 percent or higher, you could face the same legal consequences as someone charged with a second DWI if convicted.

A second DWI offense is a Class A misdemeanor in Texas. If convicted, you could face:

  • Up to one year in jail
  • A fine of up to $4,000
  • Possible driver's license suspension between 180 days and two years

Felony DWI charges

Texas takes a hard stance against repeat DWI offenders. If you are convicted of a third or subsequent DWI charge, you will likely go to prison for 2-10 years and have a third-degree felony on your record. Additionally, you could have to pay a fine of up to $10,000 and have your license suspended for up to two years.

If you cause a crash that injures another person while under the influence of alcohol, you can be charged with intoxication assault, in addition to DWI. This carries the same penalties as a third or subsequent DWI conviction. You can also be convicted of a felony DWI if you had a child under the age of 15 in your car at the time of your arrest.

The most severe felony DWI charge in Texas is intoxication manslaughter. This occurs when a drunk driver kills another person in a crash. It is a second-degree felony in Texas and carries up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

After serving your prison sentence and paying the fine, the consequences will follow you for several years. For example, you will:

  • Have to install an ignition interlock device in your car.
  • Have to complete 160-600 hours of community service and an alcohol rehabilitation treatment program.
  • Lose your right to vote and own a firearm.

In addition, many employers will not hire you if you have a pending felony or a felony conviction.

Contact a Texas lawyer today to defend your rights

The DWI defense lawyers at Amanda Webb - DWI Lawyer will ensure that you are treated fairly in the justice system. If you're facing charges, contact us online or call our Conroe law office to discuss the next steps. We'll review the details surrounding your arrest and work tirelessly to help you fight the charges. Our case evaluations are free and confidential.

Getting your driver's license reinstated after a DWI arrest

Texas DWI attorney

The consequences of a DWI charge in Texas can be harsh. If it's your first time being arrested for DWI, you face the risk of spending 3-180 days in jail and paying a fine of up to $2,000. More immediately, you will likely have your driver's license suspended for up to one year. This can have an impact on your life, including your ability to get to work and earn a living.

You shouldn't have to give up your job and livelihood because of a DWI arrest, however. Attorney Amanda Webb can discuss your options if you were arrested, and can help you get your license reinstated.

Requirements you must meet before your driver's license can be reinstated

In order to be eligible for a driver's license reinstatement, you must first do the following:

  • Show proof that you have completed an alcohol education program. This may include a 12-hour DWI Intervention Program or a 32-hour DWI Repeat Offender Program. You must then provide certification of completion.
  • Pay for your driver's license reinstatement fee. Reinstatement fees can be paid online at the Texas Department of Public Safety Driver License Division's website.
  • Purchase SR-22 car insurance (also called Financial Responsibility Insurance). You must purchase and maintain this type of insurance for at least two years from an authorized insurance company.

Once you have completed these requirements, you must apply for a driver's license reinstatement or a new driver's license. You can obtain the appropriate paperwork at the Texas Department of Public Safety's website.

Restoring your driving privileges while your DWI case is pending

You don't need to wait an entire year to get your driving privileges back. While you should never drive with a suspended license, you can obtain a restricted or occupational driver's license while your DWI case is pending. This will allow you to drive to get to work, school, medical appointments and to address family needs. You would not be able to drive under any other circumstance, however. This type of license is only valid for 12 hours within a 24-hour period, but that time frame can be specifically tailored to your needs.

Why hire a DWI lawyer?

If you were arrested and charged with a DWI, you may not be fully aware of your rights and legal options. It's best to discuss your matter with an experienced Texas DWI lawyer who understands the law and how the justice system works. The attorneys at Amanda Webb - DWI Lawyer will not only help you restore your driving privileges, but we will also devise a strong legal defense to help you avoid a DWI conviction.

To set up your free DWI case evaluation, contact us online or call our Conroe, Texas law office.

Can a field sobriety test be used against me if I was arrested for DWI?

Field sobriety test

 

The Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) was first implemented by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) during the 1970s and 1980s. During this period, U.S. transportation officials and researchers sought effective ways to address the disproportionately high drunk driving fatality rate. The SFST is a battery of three exercises. These exercises are used by law enforcement officers to determine if someone is driving under the influence of alcohol. These three tests include:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. Everyone's eyes tend to jerk and dart when rotating at certain angles. This is known as nystagmus. For people who are impaired by alcohol, eye jerking is more pronounced. During an HGN test, a police officer will ask you to follow a moving object (such as a pen or small flashlight) with your eyes from side to side.
  • Walk-and-Turn Test. An officer will ask you to take steps heel-to-toe in a straight line, then turn on one foot and repeat. An officer may suspect that you are impaired if you have trouble keeping your balance or following directions.
  • One-Leg Stand Test. An officer will ask you to stand on one leg with the other foot six inches off the ground. The officer will then ask you to count while balancing on one leg until further notice. If you have trouble balancing, hop on one foot, or put your foot down, the officer may suspect that you are impaired.

Do I have the right to refuse a field sobriety test?

In the event that you're pulled over by police, there is a chance they could suspect that you have been drinking and driving. The last thing you want to do is feed their suspicion by giving a reason to further probe you.

If you agree to take the SFST, your performance could give the officer probable cause to administer a breath test, search your car or even make an arrest. You have nothing to gain by taking a field sobriety test, so it's best to avoid it. In fact, you are under no obligation to take the SFST in Texas, nor are there any legal consequences for refusing to take it. Under Texas's implied consent law, you are required to take a breath or chemical test, however.

What if I already took a field sobriety test before my arrest?

If you already took the SFST before your arrest, the results could potentially be used against you in court. The results can just as easily be disputed by an experienced Texas DWI attorney, however. Here are some common reasons why the results can be disputed:

  • The results of the SFST are only admissible if the test is properly administered. There are some officers who are poorly trained in giving the SFST. They may give inaccurate instructions or fail to comply with the NHTSA requirements. The validity of these results is compromised if not administered correctly, and therefore, inadmissible in court.
  • It's very difficult to perform a field sobriety exercise, even for most sober people. Let's face it. If you asked the average person to stand on one leg for some time or walk heel-to-toe, there's a good chance they might stumble. Your inability to adequately perform a one-leg stand or heel-to-toe walk doesn't equate to being impaired by alcohol. There are many people who don't have the physical coordination to perform these exercises. Being overweight or elderly can also make it extremely difficult. In fact, when the early SFST studies were conducted by the NHTSA and the Southern California Research Institute, the following people were excluded from participation because they had difficulties performing the exercises:
    • People ages 65 and older
    • Those who had back, leg, or inner ear problems
    • Those who were overweight by 50 lbs. or more
  • Certain medical problems can make it difficult to perform these exercises. Injuries to the head, arms, legs, feet, back, neck, and eyes can affect a driver's ability to perform the SFST. Balance and coordination can also be affected by vertigo, low blood pressure, fatigue, certain neurological conditions, anxiety and the use of certain medications.

Put experience on your side

If you were arrested and charged with DWI in Texas, your freedom and future could be at stake. For a first-time conviction, you'll likely face up to 180 days in jail, pay a fine of up to $2,000, and lose your driver's license for up to one year. These consequences can have a significant impact on your life and the ability to pursue or maintain employment.

It's critical that you promptly consult with an attorney who has the courtroom experience and legal knowledge to help you fight the charges. Amanda Webb - DWI Lawyer knows how the criminal justice system in Texas works. Contact us online or call us to find out how we can help you.