In Houston, DWI laws are based on Texas state law rather than local law. Although Texas DWI laws have been amended many times over the years (and generally become tougher with each revision), it is difficult to say with a high degree of certainty what the Texas legislature will decide to do in 2016. Nevertheless, an understanding of the history of Texas DWI law and an awareness of the current local political environment does make it possible to offer a few educated guesses.
Current Texas DWI Penalties
Currently, Texas imposes a variety of penalties on DUI offenders including:
- Jail time
- Driver’s license suspension or revocation
- Fines and court costs
- Community service
- Mandatory DWI education programs
These penalties increase dramatically for each subsequent offense – a first-time offender, for example, can expect a fine of up to $2,000, jail time of 3 to 180 days, mandatory DWI education, and a driver’s license suspension of up to two years. A third offense, by contrast, could result in a $10,000 fine and prison time of 2 to 10 years, among other penalties. Enhanced sentencing guidelines apply under certain circumstances, such as driving drunk while carrying a passenger under 15 years of age.
The Most Recent Change
In September 2015, Texas DWI law changed to allow certain first-time DWI offenders who might otherwise face a blanket suspension of their driver’s license to drive to work or to pick up children from school if they agree to purchase an ignition interlock device (IID) and have it installed on their car. Certain first-time DWI offenders will remain ineligible for this option, however, including offenders whose blood alcohol content (BAC) was at least 0.15 at the time of their arrest and offenders who were carrying a child in their car at the time of their arrest.
The MADD Demand
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), a group that lobbies for tougher DWI/DUI laws, is dissatisfied with the most recent change in Texas DWI penalties. Instead, they propose that ignition interlock devices become mandatory for all first-time offenders instead of being offered as an option in exchange for limited driving privileges that are restored after a relatively brief period of a license suspension. Perhaps the Texas legislature will consider this idea in 2016.
Unfinished Business: Sobriety Checkpoints
In 2011 the Texas legislature considered but failed to approve sobriety checkpoints that would stop random motorists to check their sobriety. While most states allow sobriety checkpoints, the Texas legislature has been reluctant to allow them due to civil liberties concerns (because most drivers stopped at sobriety checkpoints are law-abiding). Perhaps 2016 will be the year that Texas finally permits this practice.
One current trend in Houston that will likely accelerate in 2016 is a dramatic increase in the number of police officers wearing body cameras. Although strictly speaking, this policy does not constitute any change in DWI penalties, it does render it more likely that any irregularities in a DWI arrest can be proven in court, thereby deterring police from committing misconduct. Body cameras can also make it more likely that a DWI defendant who has been victimized by questionable arrest procedures will be in a better position to win an acquittal or plea bargain a DWI charge to a lesser offense.
If you have been charged with DWI in Houston, Texas, or if you simply need more information on Texas DWI law, pick up the phone and call Madrid Law, PLLC at 713-877-9400 for a free initial evaluation.