Arrested for DWI: Here Are the Penalties

With alcohol-related highway crashes racking up faster than one per hour according to statistics from the Department of Transportation, it’s not surprising that our justice system is very harsh on anyone convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI). In Texas the laws are particularly strict, and even first-time offenders have a minefield of legal issues to navigate if they’re charged with this offense. To avoid permanent damage to your reputation and career, it’s vital to appoint a strong criminal defense attorney to represent you if you’re charged with a DWI—regardless of how minor you think the charges are.

Here’s what you can expect if you’re convicted of DWI in Texas:

First-Time Offenders

If you’re convicted of DWI for the first time, you can expect any or all of the following penalties:


The duration of your confinement depends on the severity of your offense and whether there are elevating factors. The minimum period of incarceration is three days, and the maximum is 180 days. Factors that could get you a longer period include:

  • Having a child under the age of 15 in the car with you
  • The level of damage that occurs if you have a collision
  • Your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level at the time of arrest

Of course, if someone is killed or severely injured as a result of your DWI, you could be charged with a felony and get sentenced to several years in prison.


Most regular, first-time DWI cases carry fines of up to $2,000, which could go up to $10,000 if you have a minor child present.

In Texas there’s also a “DWI Surcharge” program in place, which requires any convicted driver to pay $1,000 per year for three years for BAC between .08% and .16%, and double that amount ($2,000 per year) for a BAC of .16% or more.

Criminal Record

DWI convictions are recorded for 10 years, during which time they can be used to influence court decisions in future similar charges.

Other Penalties

Most first-time DWI offenders can also expect their driver’s license to be suspended for between 90 and 365 days, depending on the severity of the crime and the defense attorney they have.

Young Offenders

Even if it’s your first offense, different rules apply to anyone under the age of 21 who is convicted of DWI. For example, a BAC of more than .02% is the cut-off point for underage offenders, who are also likely to get their license suspended for one year.

Second Time Around

If you’re convicted of a second DWI, your situation becomes immediately a lot worse. It’s considered a Class A or Level 1 misdemeanor, which means:


The minimum jail term for a Class A misdemeanor is one month’s jail time, which could be increased for up to a year under certain circumstances. You may get a shorter prison sentence but have to perform between 80 and 200 hours’ community service. In addition, if the court decides you have a substance abuse problem you might have to spend some time in a rehab facility.

Criminal Record

During the administrative stage of the case, the arresting officer’s actions are reviewed and if found to be legal, the person’s driving license is suspended for a year. The state of Texas’s “lookback” period means that there’s no way to get rid of previous convictions on your record, so former convictions will remain for the rest of your life.


Fines can go as high as $4,000, unless you have a child under 15 in the vehicle. In that case, the fines are likely to be more. You’ll also have to pay a higher surcharge amount each year for three years, and $125 to get your driver’s license reinstated.

Other DWI Penalties

For convictions other than the first offense, you could also get hit with installation of an Interlock Ignition Device (IID). It’s connected to your vehicle’s dashboard, and requires you to blow into it in order to start the car. If your BAC is above a pre-set limit, the vehicle won’t start and you won’t be able to drive.

Third Offense (or More)

Even if your first two DWIs were misdemeanors, in Texas a third offense is a felony. Once again, the “no lookback” period means the first two are considered priors, regardless of how long ago they occurred. A felony DWI carries some or all of:

  • Imprisonment of two to 10 years, or confinement in a rehab facility for up to a year
  • Fines up to $10,000
  • Community service of up to 200 hours
  • Loss of driver’s license for up to two years
  • An annual fee of up to $2,000 for three years to keep your license

Your best chance of reducing penalties is to have a skilled criminal defense attorney represent you in court.

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About the Author

Law Office of James Alston. serves people who need legal assistance in their Criminal Defense Cases in Texas.

Houston Criminal Lawyer James Alston represents clients in the Houston area, including Pasadena, Sugar Land, Missouri City, Channelview, Conroe, Galveston, Angleton, Richmond, Rosenberg, Beaumont, Galveston County, Ft. Bend County, Montgomery County, Brazoria County, Harris County and Jefferson County in Texas.