Texas is a “zero tolerance” state when it comes to driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Although the acronyms DUI (driving under the influence) and DWI (driving while intoxicated) both pertain to the charges for driving while impaired through drug or alcohol use, they have distinct parameters and different penalties under state law. The first step if you are charged with a DUI or DWI charge is to consult a Houston criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.
Age is a usually a primary factor determining whether you will be charged with a DUI or DWI. A DUI is a Class C misdemeanor, but that doesn’t mean the charge doesn’t carry heavy consequences. In order to legally drink in Texas, you must be 21 years of age or older. If you are over the age of 17, but younger than 21 and are pulled over while driving and have any detectable amount of alcohol in your system, you can be arrested and charged with DUI. If the officer smells alcohol when he approaches your car, he can arrest you. Although some states use a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of .02 percent, Texas has no such minimum because it is a “zero tolerance state,” meaning no level of alcohol is acceptable for minors who get behind the wheel.
Driving while under the influence of drugs is a bit different, but still a serious charge. With drugs, there is no established state minimum for blood concentration levels. If an officer suspects that you are impaired due to drug use, and you exhibit of impairment of mental or physical faculties, you can be arrested for DUI at the discretion of the officer. Whether you are charged is up to the prosecutor, who will look at any blood, saliva or urine testing results. If you refuse those tests, that, too, will be taken into consideration. Your Houston criminal defense attorney will review all testing results and the validity of any facts presented in the case.
A driving while intoxicated charge doesn’t mean you were driving while drunk or severely intoxicated. It means that your BAC was over the legal limit of 0.08 percent. A DWI conviction can result in thousands of dollars in fines, a suspended driver’s license, ignition interlock on your vehicle, and even a prison sentence, but first-time offenders may be eligible for an alternative diversion program that includes counseling.
Houston has one of the highest number of alcohol-related auto collisions and fatalities in the state, so law enforcement is especially vigilant regarding perceived DWIs, and arrests frequently include inconsistencies that may benefit your case. DWIs carry stiffer penalties and fines than DUIs. Finding an experienced Houston DWI attorney is crucial to successfully avoiding those penalties.
With any arrest for being under the influence, hiring a DWI attorney in Houston should always be the first thing you do. A local attorney understands the way the court systems work in the area, and have the experience of working with a variety of judges and prosecutors.